RED WING -- Students will return to classrooms in stages as planned.

The Red Wing School Board discussed pandemic-related issues for nearly two hours Thursday, Jan. 7, opting not to rescind the plan adopted Dec. 21.

Use of actual face masks -- not just face coverings -- will be monitored and enforced for students and staff alike. All COVID-19 safety measures must be followed, Board member Arlen Diercks said, or the return will fail.

“And you’ll be hearing my wrath,” Diercks warned.

Board member Anna Ostendorf, one of three new members, expressed disappointment that the Goodhue County case rate released Thursday is higher than expected. The projected Christmas and New Year’s spikes won’t arrive for another week at least.

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The 14-day confirmed rate is over 70 for every 10,000 people; 50 was the threshold the state set last fall for recommended distance learning. While the Department of Education has been eased for the youngest students in particular, she questioned what the new threshold might be to tip Red Wing Public Schools go into distance learning again.

“That’s a question people have and rightly so,” she said.

Superintendent Karsten Anderson indicated that COVID-19 infection rates in the district or the lack of substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, etc., are his new deciding factors.

“I’m not sure we should have a particular threshold,” he said.

Ostendorf was joined by Jennifer Tift, another new member, in advocating for a solution to help teachers with the challenges of hybrid instruction, especially grades 5 and 6. At Board member Holly Tauer’s suggestion, that will be a primary topic at an already scheduled special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11.

Nicky Buck, the third new board member, reported she talked with 60-plus diverse people over two days digging into the issues after her first meeting Jan. 4 “didn’t sit well” with her. She stressed that district staff and elected leaders need to engage with all families on the learning challenges.

The board’s sole action Thursday was to extend the 80 hours of paid leave for staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. That had expired Dec. 31. The vote early in the evening was unanimous.

“I’ll just echo something we should have been doing for decades: If you’re not feeling good, stay home. Cover your mouth. Wash your hands,” Vice Chair Jim Bryant said as the meeting concluded. “We’re a society always saying, ‘I don’t want to use sick time.’ “I can’t burden my staff by missing.’ You helping them by being away from them.”

The plan

Students return to buildings in waves. The schedule is:

  • Jan. 11 — no school, in-person or distance

  • Jan. 12 — Grades K-2 return to in-person learning

  • Jan. 18 — no school, in-person or distance

  • Jan. 19 — Grades 3-4 return to in-person learning and grades 5-12: return to hybrid learning

  • Jan. 22 — Colvill early childhood students, who are in-person learning Mondays-Thursdays, resume in-person class on Fridays. This also is the last day of the second quarter.

  • Jan. 25 — Students who signed up for online-only learning may move to in-person or hybrid learning to start the third quarter, provided parents/guardians contacted the district by Dec. 15.