'So far, so good' reports Drost of school start

The new normal: a classroom of masked and socially distanced students.

“So far, so good,” Randy Drost, district administrator of the Rice Lake Area School District, told members of the Board of Education at their Sept. 14 virtual meeting.

Now into the third week of school, there has been one positive case of COVID-19 of the 30-40 students with symptoms who have been sent home either to get tested or follow the Barron County School Exclusion Algorithm (found  on district website).

“As far as we know, no other cases have come about,” Drost said.

He said there are several models available to gauge the number of positive cases in the county, but Barron County Public Health is promoting the use of the Harvard Global Health Institute-Key Metrics for COVID suppression. High risk levels are based on the number of new cases per day, on a 7-day rolling average per 100,000 people.

He said based on this model, Barron County’s 3.2 new cases per 100,000 people currently ranks as the third in the state for the lowest number of cases, only behind Ashland and Price counties

To keep the county’s rate low, Barron County Public Health’s gathering recommendations remain at 50% of  indoor capacity and an outdoor capacity of 150 people or fewer.

For the latest COVID-19 information related to the RLASD, go the district website, ricelake.k12.wi.us, and choose from information, including parent and mental health resources, scrolling on the right hand side of the page.

Drost also reported that as of Sept. 11, 341 students are participating in the distance learning option, which is down from 388 who initially signed up for that option.

The administrator said district technology staff are in the process (80% complete) of ensuring that all teaching staff have an individual Google Chromebook, which has camera and microphone functions,  to stream an in-person class to a student or students who may not be able to be in the class.

Coverings to continue

When asked by board president Keven Jensen how the mask wearing is going, the district administrator replied, “I think it’s going very well.”

Drost asked building principals to comment on how it has gone in their buildings.

High School principal Curt Pacholke said, “Obviously it’s been a learning curve, but I think it’s going rather well.”

He said staff have been very compliant and only a couple students were sent home the first week for noncompliance.

Middle School principal Josh Tomesh said none have been sent home from his building. He said the kids are doing it, the staff are great, and he thanked the parents for being supportive.

Tainter Elementary principal Joann Walker replied, “We, too, have had no problems to speak of. The kids have been wonderful about it.”

Natalie Springer, principal at Hilltop and Haugen elementaries,  said, “I would agree. Our kids have been phenomenal. We’ve had no issues whatsoever, and the staff have been great role models.”

Drost added his thanks  to the staff, acknowledging that there was a lot of nervousness and consternation at the start of school, but said everyone is working hard.

The district administer also shared information from 37 of 39 school districts in CESA 11 who responded to a survey on  their face covering plans pending the Sept. 28 expiration of the governor’s mask mandate. Of the 37:

• 30 school districts plan to continue with current face covering practices;

• two school districts are unsure of plans after the governor’s order ends;

• five school districts plan to “strongly recommend,” the use of face coverings.

Drost said, “In Rice Lake, we plan to continue with the use of face coverings in the same manner as now. This will continue to be evaluated.”

Other business

 In other business, the Board of Education:

• Honored Amy Pelle with the Staff Excellence Award for September. She is in her 26th year of teaching language arts and drama, mentors new teachers and has shown a passion for professional development.

• Approved five resignations and 23 new hires.

• Heard a summer school report from coordinator Jennifer Jensen, who said attendance was about half of what it is in a normal year. She said that was due, in part, to class sizes being limited to 10 students or fewer.

• Heard a Pupil Services report from Sue Strouf.

• Had a first reading of the Red Cedar School handbook.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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