|11/6/2020 11:46:00 AM|
CL board unable to provide
proverbial lifeboat to fall activities
With the remainder of the football and volleyball seasons hanging in the balance, the Chisago Lakes School Board had a decision to make at their specially called meeting on Thursday, November 5.
Multiple public speakers, including both the volleyball and football head coaches, pled their case to be allowed to continue to play despite the district moving to all distance learning because of COVID-19 cases eclipsing 50 per 1,000 people in Chisago County and nearly 100 students at the high school on quarantine. The speakers cited physical and mental health, as well as the social aspect of it. Many said their children were struggling with being away from school and athletics as well.
Lori Berg, who chaired the meeting because regular chairman Mark Leigh was in quarantine and attended remotely, explained that the decision was not really theirs to make. She said the guidelines from Governor Tim Walz’ order require activities to be called off when the cases hit a certain threshold.
Chisago County had long since passed that threshold with over 67 cases per 1,000 people.
Berg said the guidelines of not allowing activities are not just a suggested policy, but can be enforced by law. Berg quoted Governor Walz’ Executive Order 20-82, saying, “Districts and charter schools must comply with local and state health guidelines and as a result, the guidance and executive order have the force of law.” She emphasized the must when reading the order.
“Legally speaking, it has the same force as a law would have,” she continued. “So for those that think we have local control over activities, we actually don’t have the power to do so.”
She also noted that the example of other districts -- Anoka Hennepin being the oft-cited one -- moving to full distance learning but continuing activities does not apply the same to Chisago Lakes. She said when those districts made those decisions, their counties were under the 50 cases per 1,000 threshold. They were voluntarily moving to full distance despite not being required to, so they were able to keep activities going. Chisago County’s case numbers dictate that the district must move to full distance.
Berg said she would love for a way to be able to continue fall activities in person, but it was wasn’t possible. The rest of the board echoed that sentiment, saying it was a tough decision, but it was really taken out of their hands by the guidelines.
They voted unanimously to not allow in-person activities while the district is in an all distance model, which is planned until at least December 2. That effectively ends both the football and volleyball seasons. Both got off to late starts because of COVID-19-related shutdowns already, so the 2020 football season will end with one game played and the volleyball season with three games played.
The board also took action on winter sports. The earliest start date was supposed to be dance on November 9, with boys hockey starting on Monday, November 23 and many more following on November 30 and December 7.
Despite having a target goal of potentially returning to a hybrid model on December 2, the board, in discussion with Activities Director Jodi Otte, favored pushing the start back for all sports a few weeks to mid-December. That would put them on track to have two weeks of practice prior to a January 4 start date for actual competitions after Christmas break. Otte said with the winter season being longer and the MSHSL building in a make up week at the end of the season, rescheduling winter events would be a bit more forgiving than fall.
The suggestion was passed unanimously by the board.
But, they, and superintendent Dean Jennissen, stressed that the county numbers need to be moving in the right direction for the plans to work. If individual building numbers are low enough, the district can also return sooner, potentially, but with everyone being out of the buildings, there’s no building-specific numbers to report. Leigh wondered how that would work with empty buildings, and Berg said that is something they’d have to consult with the Minnesota Department of Education on.
Jennissen said that it would start with requiring communication and working with the parents to self-report any issues. “During our high school shutdown in October, there was quite a bit of connectivity between parents and administration to make sure we were able to identify those things, but I couldn’t say it was 100 percent participation between all those involved,” Jennissen said. High school principal Dave Ertl did note that out of the positive cases at the high school throughout the year, all but one were allowed to be identified to the school so they could work on contact tracing. He said that one family did not allow the name, age or gender of their student that tested positive to be released back to the high school, which made it impossible to do contact tracing for that particular case.