The Perham-Dent School District is in the process of preparing for the 2021-22 school year. During a School Board Meeting on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 11, the board mentioned that enrollment is up 47 more students than at the end of the 2020-21 school year now that students are returning from online learning and homeschooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Wednesday, Aug. 11, the district plans to return in-person, five days per week with regular start and end times, much like many other schools in the area. They are recommending face masks, but they're not required regardless of vaccination status. Face coverings are required on buses due to federal law.
There are no social distancing or vaccination requirements. Cleaning protocols will continue to support mitigation of COVID-19. Drinking fountains and water refill stations will be available. Self-screening for symptoms of illness is required, and schools are required to report COVID-19 cases to the Minnesota Department of Health. The school will notify people in close contact with a positive case and ask them to monitor their symptoms.
Accommodations for students with disabilities will be provided. The school board met on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 11 to discuss online options, which some families asked for. Decisions regarding this will be made depending on the number of families who show interest in online schooling in the next few weeks.
All plans are subject to change as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.
Concerns from the public regarding COVID-19
The Perham School Board received a letter from Dr. Kailey Witt, a family medical expert at Perham Health, who was unable to be at the meeting. "I am writing to you today as both a mother and a physician," her letter read. She urged Perham-Dent schools to enforce masking, as advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
She wrote that schooling is important for educational and social development in children. Dr. Witt said that, while vaccinations have been shown to be the best protection against COVID-19, children are not able to get vaccinated at this time. She continued, saying that the second best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is through masking.
"All last year, we masked and kept kids in school as much as possible," she wrote. "This worked."
Dr. Witt said that the Delta variant has been found to be highly transmissible and spreads quickly through communities. She continued, saying that we'll continue to see numbers grow as school begins due to the climbing number of cases in southern states, much like we have throughout the past 18 months.
"We are now seeing a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Dr. Witt wrote. "This includes our children, the most important people in our lives… Across the country, we're seeing increased numbers of children hospitalized with COVID-19."
According to her, MIS-C, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, has been seen in increasing numbers, affecting children following COVID-19 infections. 3-4 weeks after contracting COVID-19, children may experience MIS-C, which includes severe inflammation of more than two organ systems. The treatments required can take weeks to months and are life-altering to some children.
"So far in Minnesota, there have been 97 cases of patients hospitalized with MIS-C," Dr. Witt wrote. "96 of those cases are children 19 and under. Children should not be forced to risk unnecessary exposure at school because of the unwillingness of adults to protect them until they are eligible for vaccination."
She said masking will be necessary at schools to stop the pandemic of the unvaccinated. She advised the Perham-Dent school district to follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Education and the World Health Organization to require masking at school.
Other visitors attending the meeting were allowed to make a comment or ask a question. One commenter asked the board if they listened to information regarding COVID-19 outside of the CDC. Her and several commenters believe the government has an agenda to scare people.
The school board answered that they listen to the state because that's where they receive 85% of their funding. They're following the CDC guidelines at the moment to strongly recommend mask-wearing.
"There's a lot of parents who do not want masks, and it's like we don't have a say," said a commenter. "We could take our kids out of school, and I don't think you want that either." Another commenter mentioned that he and several others met with Dr. Scott Jensen of Detroit Lakes, a former state senator, who said the state wouldn't pull the school district's funding.
Earlier that day, Superintendent Mitch Anderson met with over 30 other superintendents in the area, who were all concerned about losing funding from the state. He said, down the road, looking away from mandates and executive orders can become a violation of law, which would cause the loss of funding.
Other commenters asked about the federal law of mask requirements on a bus. Masks will be provided to those who don't have one.
In other action
Other business discussed by the board:
- E-sports are being considered as an option to add to school activities. Several school board members want to see a presentation on the risks and benefits before approving or denying it.
- Heart of the Lakes has new paint in its hallways, black and gold to match the high school.
- Technology updates and changes will be implemented in all three schools.