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BEA delays some in-school plans

By Staff | Aug 30, 2020

Not all Blue Earth Area students will be in the classroom when school resumes this fall.

Because of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the BEA School Board voted to start the school year with hybrid learning for grades 8-12. However, students in grades K-7 will begin the year with in-person learning.

“The goal will be to get all of the students back in school for in-person learning on Sept. 21,” BEA superintendent Mandy Fletcher noted.

It was not the way the board and administration had hoped to start the year.

“We have been monitoring the county case rate, which does have a little bit of lag time,” superintendent Mandy Fletcher told the board. “The most recent numbers released covered the dates from July 26-Aug. 8. The case rate number is the first thing we look at when deciding what scenario to use for opening school and the rate for that time period was 7.2. This number would have supported beginning the school year with all the grades, K-12, utilizing in-person learning.”

Fletcher continued to explain the process used in making their decision.

“We have an Incident Command Team which consists of the superintendent, district administrators, board members, school nurse, staff, local public health, local healthcare professionals and a BEA student,” Fletcher said. “This group met last Friday to decide on a recommendation for reopening.”

Fletcher shared the school district was notified by local public health officials of a situation which was being monitored very closely.

“The situation involved a large “gathering” which took place on Aug. 9 and was estimated to involve more than 200 people,” Fletcher commented. “This took place within our county and from this “gathering” there have been known cases of COVID which have stemmed from this event.”

Fletcher continued.

“One of the issues which has been communicated from local public health officials is the problem they are having determining the exact number of positive cases because they are having a difficult time doing contact tracing,” Fletcher stated. “Part of the reason for that is because individuals who attended the “gathering” are hesitant to share who they were in contact with because there were individuals there who were underage.”

This development became a large part of the discussion when the Incident Command Team met last Friday, according to Fletcher.

“We looked at the pros and cons of each scenario,” Fletcher shared. “There is the potential for a trickle down effect with some symptomatic individuals choosing not to go in and be tested. The incubation period is 14 days, which pushes the date to Aug. 22. However, if someone were to pass it along to another person during those 14 days it turns into a 28-day window of concern for transmission. That puts us at Sept. 5, which is just a few days prior to schools opening.”

The Incident Command Team took all of these things under consideration as well as looking at other issues, including the social and emotional well-being of the students, according to Fletcher.

“This is a proactive approach which is meant for us to avoid having to go to all distance learning,” Fletcher said. “We want to make sure this infection has run its course and we can stop the spread and keep everybody safe and get everyone back in school again.”

Fletcher told the board the Incident Command Team will be meeting on a weekly basis and stays in close contact with local health officials who have access to the data much faster than the Incident Command Team does.

“When I looked at the command team I was extremely impressed that it was a broad section of our community,” board member Frankie Bly said. “When this group is making their decisions it cannot be emphasized enough to our community and constituents that we all have a responsibility to our kids and to the other people in the county.”

Board member Stacey Beyer wondered how other districts in the county were affected.

“I have spoken with the superintendent at United South Central and one of the things that is great about the way this works is each district is able to make their own decision on how to proceed,” Fletcher said. “Because there were no USC students involved, they were not affected by the incident.”

Board chair Susan Benz thanked Fletcher for her concern in putting safety for all of the staff, students and families as the top priority.

“Anytime we can be proactive in keeping everyone safe is important,” Benz stated. “I appreciate the work you have done to make that happen.”

Fletcher shared some final thoughts before the meeting adjourned.

“We are not asking people in our communities, families and students to not socialize,” she explained. “We are just asking people to remember to take measures, like staying six feet apart and wearing masks, to stay safe and lower the numbers of cases so we can get the kids back in school, which is where we want them to be.”