Fairmont schools change course

FAIRMONT — In an emergency school board meeting Monday, Fairmont Area School board members passed a motion that will see the high school return to a hybrid learning model on Wednesday, September 30. Elementary students will remain with an in-person learning model, and will not be going to a hybrid model. Both decisions will be reassessed in the future, as COVID-19 numbers for the county continue to be released, with the board planning to revisit the issue at their next board meeting on October 13.

The board heard first heard from Caroline McCourt with SHIP and Chera Sevcik, executive director of Health and Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties, who explained how the 14-day case rate model works, and how that model affects learning model decisions.

The model is the total number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in a population divided by 10,000, within a two-week rolling time period. The Minnesota Department of Health then uses those numbers to recommend school policy options when it comes to different learning models.

“From August 16 through August 29, you have a rate of 12.52,” said McCourt. “Then you go to August 23 through September 5 it’s at 17.53, then we dropped back down to 14.53 on August 30 through September 12. Then for the week of September 6 through September 18 that we report this Thursday, we will see the number between 30 and 50, and that will push you into a different learning model.”

With case numbers between 30 and 50, it is recommended that schools stick to an Elementary hybrid model, with full distance learning for middle and high school students. McCourt then stated that the numbers for September 13 through September 26, which will be reported on October 8, will be well above 50. At that point, it is recommended that school districts go to distance learning for all students.

The topic of extracurricular activities was also addressed, with many area parents and educators unhappy about the lack of not only sporting events but of other activities, and the perceived negative impact on students.

The board also heard from high school coach Brian Wille, who delivered an impassioned plea for the board to consider the importance of extracurricular activities.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that our leadership has attempted to make decisions with our students’ best interests in mind,” he said. “However as we stand here today and assess the situation that faces our district, the question I must ask all of you is this: Based on our current situation, is our current model of learning equitable? Is our current model equitable for the safety of our students, and is it equitable for their overall health?”

Wille stated that he was not only talking about physical, but mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health. He went on to state that distance learning and student involvement in extracurricular activities do not have to be mutually exclusive.

“We believe that the safest place for our students outside of the school day would be within the support and guidance of our extracurricular activities,” he said. “Here our coaches and advisors can support and guide and mentor our students in making the correct decisions and following the proper protocols. Whereas under the current model, our students are out in the community without the structures that their extracurricular activities provide to hold them accountable.”

After passing their motion, board members chose to once again admonish and lecture those members of the public who do not wear masks.

“I had a little bit of wrath at people not wearing their masks properly at our last meeting, and I still do,” said board member Dan Brookens. “But I’m trying to learn to be patient.”

Board member Rufus Rodriguez also weighed in, stating that everybody is a role model for the community.

“I see plenty of people in the community not wearing masks, just flouting the dangers involved and the risk to the school. They’re jeopardizing all of our hard work, and the best thing you can do to ensure a successful high school year is to be a responsible role model and wear your mask when you’re out in public.”

Board member Mike Edman also spoke up, encouraging people to confront those who do not wear masks.

“If you see somebody, say “Hey, put on a mask.” You’re going to have to take an active role, but do it with kindness. Nobody likes to be lectured, nobody likes to be yelled at, but it’s jarring when I see it.”


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