Park Rapids area residents questioned the school board Monday, Aug. 23 about how the district’s return to school next month will be shaped by government recommendations regarding COVID-19.

The discussion came at the end of a public comment period about the state’s ongoing review of social studies standards. The meeting room was filled to standing-room-only.

In reply, Superintendent Lance Bagstad referred back to his statement at the school board’s Aug. 9 meeting. He emphasized that the district will not require any precautions that are not required by law. Mask wearing will therefore not be required in school facilities.

However, he said, a federal mask-wearing mandate on public transportation will still apply on school buses through at least January 2022.

Bagstad added that he does not believe in quarantining healthy students and that COVID testing and vaccinations will not be offered in school facilities, since the community has multiple clinics and a hospital.

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Asked whether students may be required to be vaccinated, Bagstad said the school district has no vaccine requirements for students.

“In my opinion, vaccinating, testing, wearing masks are purely choice,” he said. The audience applauded.

School board chair Sherry Safratowich added that when she had small children, she trusted the vaccines they were given, but she doesn’t trust them now.

Audience member Heidi Albee, a registered nurse, said many parents don’t know they can request preservative-free vaccines for their children, containing less of the metals that some people believe cause autism.

Hires, departures and more

In consent items and general business, the school board:

  • Received the first enrollment report of the 2021-22 school year, showing a total enrollment of 1,590 students in grades K-12, plus 66 pre-K and 37 early childhood students. The only K-12 class with fewer than 100 students is the senior class with 94, while this fall’s freshman class currently has 148 students enrolled.

  • Heard Bagstad report that the school is working with the local ministerium to bring back release time, potentially using school facilities to offer the optional religious instruction.

  • Heard Community Ed Director Jill Dickinson report that the Century Adventures summer program had an average daily attendance of 80-90 students.

  • Heard Activity Director Jeremy Nordick report the number of students signing up for fall sports, including almost 100 in grades 7-12 for football, almost 70 in grades 7-12 for volleyball, almost 40 for boys and girls cross-country, 33 for tennis and 26 for swimming. “We feel like there’s gonna be a lot of winning going on,” he said.

  • Accepted the resignations of Lacy Johansen as a paraprofessional and Krista Christy-Prigge as a cook’s helper, and accepted the retirement of bus driver Curtis Sumner with regret and thanks for his nine years of service to the school district.

  • Hired Gale Thomas, Peder Hoyum and Rosalea Rents as paraprofessionals, Louise Bass as a 0.6-time music teacher, Lacy Johansen as a preschool teacher contingent upon licensure, Krystal Murphy as co-adviser of the BPA and Susan Keranen as an elementary special education teacher.

  • Approved second readings of the job description for director of the Park Rapids Area Virtual Academy (PRAVA) and director of teaching and learning. Based on the two job descriptions, the board also posted a combined position as director of curriculum and instruction and director of PRAVA, plus a position as a high school special education paraprofessional.

  • Approved the district’s plan for distance learning and e-learning days. Distance learning days are planned days when students and teachers communicate through Google Classroom or other digital platforms. E-learning days are unplanned days held in the event of an emergency school closure.

  • Heard that there will be a ribbon cutting on Sept. 15 for the PAWN Special Education consortium’s Up North Learning Center in Walker.

  • Heard Century School Principals Mike LeMier and Shawn Andress and PAWN Director Eva Pohl report they are trying to hire several paraprofessionals and having difficulty finding candidates. Bagstad reported similar challenges with hiring substitute bus drivers and said he recently obtained his commercial driver’s license.

  • Heard interim director Jill Stevenson report PRAVA is enrolling 17 students for the fall term. Coming from 15 families, the students include six from the middle school and 11 from the high school, eight girls and nine boys.

  • Heard district secretary Kim Splett report she is working with the Becker and Hubbard county auditors to print ballots for the district’s special bonding election on Nov. 2.

  • Approved payments presented totaling $1,657,570.41.

  • The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7 at the Frank White Education Center.