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September 22, 2021

9/10/2021 11:06:00 AM
COVID plans for 2021 take shape at special CL school board meeting

The Chisago Lakes School Board met on Wednesday, September 1 to make sure they had their plan in place for the 2021 school year in regards to COVID-19.

Superintendent Dean Jennissen stated that the five percent positivity mark in individual buildings is what is going to be the significant benchmarks.

But, he also accentuated that the district wants to take a scalpel-like approach to the pandemic this year, and follow building numbers, and not rely as much county or even district-wide numbers. If a school’s positive cases, as well as students showing symptoms, get above five percent, the district will consult with Chisago County Public Health, as well as  nurses and admin team to review the current guidance and make appropriate adjustments to the learning plans.
Currently, the guidance is that students are encouraged, but not required to wear masks in school, and encouraged to social distance when possible. Also, the whole board stressed that if students are not feeling well, they should stay home and are encouraged to get tested for COVID. Masks on the bus are a state mandate this year.

Board member Lori Berg asked why the school wasn’t offering free voluntary testing in schools, and Jennissen said that there is an option to send home test kits for free with students or have parents pick them up, but they don’t have the specifics on the program yet. “I understand that it’s a grant based program and it’s something we are interested in doing, but we need to know if there are any strings attached to it,” he said.

Board member Dani Strenke was concerned that if students and parents aren’t required to divulge a positive test or even that they are having symptoms, how would the district ever know if they are at that five percent threshold.

“We have to do the best we can with the numbers we have in our schools,” Board member Jeff Lindeman said. “We have to use the numbers to make the decisions that affect us. We can’t use numbers that aren’t a part of our school district.”
Jennissen explained the procedure for reporting positive cases and symptoms is the same as last year, meaning it’s essentially on the honor system and the district does not get  the results of tests unless the parents offer them, and that is when the district works on contact tracing.

Jennissen also said he has the utmost confidence in the districts’ nursing team, who are very involved in the process of not just care, but decision-making. “We know what we know inside of our buildings. We can’t control what happens outside of it, and it will come in. It always does. Every fall we have issues. We’re gonna have to distinguish between regular germs and crud and COVID,” he explained. “The nurses will know that best. Plan 1, 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D is to have kids in school.”

Berg wondered if a student was openly showing symptoms if the district could make the call to test or quarantine them, but Jennissen said they cannot force anyone to do either if they say they are no longer symptomatic. Lindeman emphasized that they have to trust the people and urged the public to take a cautious approach this fall. “We have to trust people. I don’t know how we can say anymore. We implore you to take care of your children. We have to trust our families to take care of their children,” he said. “Short of a mandate, we have to trust families. I implore you to look out for others if your child is symptomatic.”

The board was then tasked with granting the superintendent emergency authority to make a change to the COVID policy, mandates or school closures, which is the same authority he had last year.

Berg led off by saying that while she supports Jennissen having that authority, she spoke with the district’s legal counsel and this vote was clearly a public declaration that the district was not going to go with a mask mandate to start the year.
She did say she also learned at any point, any board member can say, “Dean things have changed, thanks for making the decision, but we want to call for a vote on that decision.” Whether that’s to support his decision or the opposite, to overturn, they can do that at anytime, even if it’s not on the agenda.

Lindeman said he was slightly concerned that it’s a big decisions that affects upwards of 10,000 people. “I am very much opposed to non-emergency decisions, but I am for emergency ones,’ he said. “I trust you to make those decisions, but that we’re all informed of those and could take a vote if needed. I would implore board chairman Mark Leigh to call for special meetings. These are really big decisions and I, as a board member, feel more comfortable that I have those assurances they’ll be done right.”

Jennissen did make clear that no decision he makes is made in isolation. Despite holding the authority to make those decisions solely, he said he consults with the County Public Health team, building principals, the district’s Incident Command Team and the school nurses to make the best decision possible for the district.

With that, the board took a roll call vote and the measure passed. Brenda Carlson, Leigh and Lindeman all voted in favor of the resolution while Berg and Strenke voted against it, emphasizing that it’s about them not feeling the prevention strategies are adequate to start the year.

Newly appointed board member Sarah Aadland is still not officially seated until the regular September meeting and will be able to vote at the regular meeting on Thursday, September 23.

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