Menahga Superintendent Kevin Wellen shared his ongoing lobbying efforts against some of the Minnesota Department of Education’s COVID-19 regulations, which he said are more suited to Metro schools than small, rural ones. He spoke at the Jan. 19 school board meeting.

His efforts, along with other superintendents, “were successful in getting the requirement for employees to wear both a mask and a shield set aside,” Wellen wrote in his board report.

In a letter to the Menahga community, he wrote, “We have been lobbying the department of Education (MDE), county public health and our professional associations to make allowances for districts like us who have been successful in continuing in person education since the start of the year.”

When new restrictions were announced Dec. 18, Wellen said he sent the following message to MDE, the county and my associations: “Our district is one of many, mostly small and outstate schools, who have successfully implemented in-person and/or hybrid learning. Most of us have been doing this since the beginning of the school year. Now, as we are near the midway point of the school year, we have been handed six new mandates to fix a problem which, for us, is not a problem.”

Noting that Menahga Elementary’s classes are between 14 and 19 students, Wellen told state and county officials, “We can maintain acceptable group segregation and distances in classrooms, specialists and lunches.”

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MDE listened, and Wellen reported, “we were successful in getting several of these restrictions changed to ‘strong recommendations,’ and we have been able to continue instruction in person the way we have been since September.”

Wellen wrote that he wants the community to know “we are fighting for what is best for kids’ education and mental health while keeping them safe. We have demonstrated for months now that we know how to do this well. There are only 22 schools in the state that have been teaching in-person K-12 since the start of school. We are proud to say Menahga is one of them. I also want you to know we are not in this alone. There are many other districts advocating for the same cause. We will follow the rules we have been handed, but we will not stop advocating for reasonable expectations for outstate schools.”

Wellen also asked MDE to waive the mask requirement for students during sports and physical education. Thus far, MDE has not relaxed that masking rule.

In other business, the school board did as follows:

  • Created an Indian Education Director position and set the stipend pay range from $1,830 to $2,125.

  • Approved the purchase of a Torchmate 4400 plasma cutting table for the Career & Technical Education metal workshop in the high school, at a cost of $28,156.

  • Learned that the Menahga School Board earned an award of distinction from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) for its commitment to training. To receive the award, a majority of the board members have attained either the MSBA President’s or Director’s Award (100 hours of training).

  • Approved these extra-curricular coaches/advisors: Rylan Aho, assistant girls basketball coach; Nichole Weston, head robotics coach and Toby Weston, assistant robotics coach.

  • Approved one-year extensions to scoreboard sponsorships, due to COVID-19 limiting in-person attendance in the gym.

  • Accepted a letter of resignation from part-time paraprofessional Maggie Peterson, effective Dec. 23, 2020, and thanked her for her 11 years of dedicated service to the district.

  • Accepted a letter of resignation from paraprofessional Janelle Brockpahler, effective Jan. 8.

  • Approved lane change requests for Christa Palubicki (BA to BA+10); Kami Johnson (BA+10 to BA+20) and Scott Petrowski (MA to MA+10).

The next regular school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16 in the media center.