Minot Public Schools continue precautions against coronavirus

Ward County’s risk level for transmission of COVID-19 was changed to moderate this week but Minot Public Schools Supt. Mark Vollmer said Thursday morning that doesn’t mean changes for students.

Most kids have been attending classes in a face-to-face setting, with masks required and enhanced cleaning measures. Some parents of students in the district opted for their children to attend school using a distance learning model.

Other schools have opted for a hybrid option, with some students attending classses face-to-face part of the week and online on other days. The hybrid model reduces the number of students in a classroom.

“The experts are saying that a hybrid model is not necessarily the way to go,” Vollmer said.

If kids aren’t in school, they might be in daycare, staying home alone without supervision, or mixing with others and could be at risk of catching the virus or spreading it in other locations, said Vollmer.

Vollmer aid eight students and 10 staff members in the Minot Public School system have tested positive for the coronavirus thus far. Vollmer said none of those people are thought to have contracted the disease in one of the schools. A person who tests positive for the virus is quarantined, per state protocols.

“We’re not seeing mass spread in schools,” said Vollmer. “We’re pretty serious about this mask thing, very serious about masks.”

Vollmer said a committee was scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the county’s new rating and additional steps to take in schools.

Another hot topic a few weeks ago – the ban on student use of lockers – has also been discussed by the committee. Locker use was banned this year because school officials didn’t want kids lingering in the locker areas and risking spread of the virus.

Vollmer said locker use is still not allowed but principals put together student focus groups to discuss how schools can make it easier for kids to carry backpacks. One suggestion was providing an area other than lockers where backpacks can be stored and students can access them during the day.

“One kid had a year’s supply of paper in her backpack,” said Vollmer, who said that no student needs to carry around that much paper.

He said once Chromebooks are available for all students, students won’t have to carry around so many books.

Karen Knowles, director of Minot Head Start, said Thursday that about 180 children have been attending classes there. Most are in face to face classrooms, with about 10 children receiving instruction over Zoom and via other virtual methods. So far no parents have called and asked to have their children switched to distance learning, even with the change in risk level for the county.

“We have to have the parent support,” Knowles, said, but she said it has worked well so far. Children who are enrolled in distance learning have packets of learning materials that were sent home with their parents.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant that class sizes have had to be limited. Instead of 16 children, each classroom has about 12 students. Only 15 people, including three teachers, can be in each classroom per the state guidelines. Early Head Start, which always had eight children to a classroom, has not had to reduce class sizes. Only one adult instead of multiple adults is permitted to bring a child into the building and to pick them up at the end of the day. Each visitor has to have their temperature taken before being allowed into the building.

Knowles said the restrictions on class sizes means not all kids eligible for Head Start can be served. There is a waiting list for both Head Start and Early Head Start.


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