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USC is set for ‘normal’ start up

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Aug 22, 2021

The excitement for the possibility of things returning to normal was on the minds of everyone who spoke at the United South Central School Board meeting on Tuesday night, Aug. 17.

“I have received many questions about many things regarding school this fall,” superintendent Keith Fleming said. “My answer to those questions is, ‘We are looking forward to the return of normal operations.'”

There was, however, some concern raised by one board member over the district’s 2021-2022 Safe Return to In-Person Learning Plan.

When presenting the plan, Fleming told board members the schools in the Gopher Conference as well as other area schools are making the wearing of masks optional.

“Masks will have to be worn when riding in school buses or other district vehicles. That is a federal requirement,” Fleming explained. “We are asking if you are sick, please stay home. If someone tests positive they will have to quarantine. If a person has close contact with someone who is positive we will monitor their health status. If someone who is unvaccinated is exposed to a family member who is positive then the person will have to quarantine. If a vaccinated person is exposed to a positive family member then we will monitor their health status.”

Board member Brad Heggen expressed his concern over kids not wearing masks in the school building.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) data shows we have a high community transmission rate and recommends those indoors wear masks,” Heggen stated.

Fleming replied the district can change their guidelines if the need arises.

“I am concerned it could be too late by then,” Heggen offered.

Board member Jon Feist voiced a different worry over the wearing of masks.

“My concern is that kids who want to wear a mask are not pressured or bullied because of their decision,” Feist commented.

The board passed the plan with Heggen casting the lone dissenting vote.

Activities director Joe Kuechenmeister was on hand to talk about the fall sports seasons.

“For the past decade, districts across the state have been utilizing the “Why We Play” program put out by the Minnesota State High School League,” Kuechenmeister shared. “It puts the focus on education-based athletics. While we are definitely pushing for wins and success, it fights the ‘win at all costs’ attitude.”

He explained each coach receives training to help them with the program.

“Sports are like life – there will be ups and downs,” Kuechenmeister said. “Another thing we have done is initiate a Captain’s Club with the goal to build students who will be strong leaders in their communities when they leave USC.”

He noted practices for most fall sports are underway, but participation is down a little.

“We are hoping to have a normal year and perhaps get some more students involved in athletics as we go forward,” Kuechenmeister commented. “We are also excited to be able to get the community back attending the games.”

He did note the school had 41 students interested in being on the clay target team.

“Unfortunately, we are limited to only having 30 kids on the team due to the availability of shells,” he stated.

Elementary principal Jennifer Taylor was at the meeting and told board members an open house for elementary students will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 7, from 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

“We do have an open position for a third grade teacher and interviews scheduled with two candidates,” Taylor said.

She also gave an update on the projected elementary enrollment for this fall.

“We currently are looking at 355 students in 18 sections for grades K-6,” she shared.

High school principal Julie Stauber also had enrollment numbers to share with the board.

“There are 327 students as of today in grades 7-12,” she said. “I am also happy to announce we have hired Brett Neel as the new social studies teacher.”

Stauber updated the board on some upcoming events.

“There will be an open house for the high school students and parents on Sept. 1, from 3:30-7:30 p.m. Orientation will take place at 5:30 p.m. for seventh graders and at 6:30 p.m. for ninth graders.”

Stauber shared a picnic will be held at Half Moon Park on Sept. 11, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. to honor the area First Responders.

The board also:

• Accepted the resignations of cook’s helpers Virginia Bias and Jayne Meyer and elementary teacher Ryan Wangen.

• Approved the leave requests of school nurse Taryn Eilertson and food service worker Heidi McClurg.

• Approved the contracts of paraprofessionals Kaitlin Ammerman and Jayne Meyer, cook’s helpers Rakshita Evenson and Karen Quade and social studies teacher Brett Neel.

• Agreed to sell surplus property items including 54 HP Chromebooks and 415 Dell Chromebooks along with 50 HP access points.

• Approved the purchase of 30 Lenova 500e Chromebooks at a cost of $15,030.