Covid-19 “Learning Curve” : the New Normal

Emma Souza, Staff Writer

Wayzata staff describe their enforcement of COVID guidelines as a new normal during the first full term of in-person hybrid learning.

School nurse Jean Parsons said there are a lot of questions to be asked to make sure the right paths are taken [with COVID].

“Everybody in the pandemic has a different story to tell,” Parsons said. “We want to follow the Minnesota Department of Health’s recommendations.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “School staff will need to be in close contact with students. Personal protective equipment must be used to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

The health office is very careful with determining who is symptomatic and who is not, Parsons said.

“Our custodial staff has been wonderful–they’ve been extra deep cleaning,” Parsons said. “The health office is a ‘clean space.’  But if there are students that need a kleenex, or something that has nothing to do with being ill, we are asking students not to come to the health office for that. We don’t know exactly who is a symptomatic carrier and who isn’t.”

Some students are exempt from the mask mandate, according to Parsons.

“Masks are mandated indoors,” Parsons said, “so when you’re in this building a mask must be worn. However, there are health conditions that make it very difficult, dangerous almost, to wear a mask. If you’re in the building at Wayzata and cannot wear a mask for a medical reason, we ask that you get a medical exemption.”

“When students come in for one-on-one help, masks are mandatory,” said Family and Consumer Science  teacher Lauren Wilvers. “During my fourth block, an in-person class, [students] are required to wear masks, and then while cooking they wear face shields and gloves. When the students come in they wash their hands right away. Usually it would be 5-10 minutes after instructions start but we do that right away. We have extra safety and sanitation procedures between classes as well.”

Wilvers’ in person and culinary-based classes require different guidelines than most.

“[Students] can only take off the face shield and gloves after all food has been prepared,” Wilvers said. “We also do not eat in the classroom. We go into an open space, spread out, then students can take off their masks.”

Wilvers also said she does enjoy the in-person aspects of hybrid teaching.

Amy Swenson, Lauren Wilvers, and Sue Iverson (retired) in better, more maskless days.

“I am a lab-based class,” Wilvers said, “and so I do like the ability of kids coming in. In our culinary classes, we’re not doing a-b-a-b [days], we’re doing half of a, half of b, second half of a, then second half of b. That has been very beneficial.”

Wilvers said there is not a perfect strategy when it comes to teaching hybrid classes.

“I am 100% online for two of my three classes. Block 4 is every-other-day,” she said. “Going from never seeing students to sometimes seeing students is very different. I have had to learn how to engage students online versus naturally in the classroom, which has been a learning curve.”

Principal Scott Gengler said the ways of Covid-19 have become a new normal.

“Well, all of it has taken a while to get used to, as it’s just not the norm,” Gengler said. “It took a while to adjust, and we’re still adjusting every day, but I think for the most part we’ve had a great deal of cooperation within our school community–parents, students, and staff–to make the best of this and create positive experiences for our kids.”

Gengler also said the school does not plan on releasing the names of students who have contracted Covid.

“That’s confidential information, just as it would be with staff. We will always protect the identity of students. We will do what we can to be as transparent as possible when communicating with families that may have been affected. If necessary, we will do a mass communication, but…not unless we believe it would be helpful to be transparent to the entire school community for whatever reason. Most of the positive tests that have come forward have not required a mass communication,” said Gengler. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines, “[t]o protect the privacy of the confirmed case, any notification [about a student or staff’s condition] should avoid using any potentially identifying information.” 

“We can always do better with the expectations of social distancing,” Gengler said. “It just takes one poor decision to shut down a class…keep a staff member home…keep kids unable to come to school, or to cancel a school program. We need everyone to cooperate…so we can continue to move forward successfully.”

Gengler also said he thinks the school has learned from this past spring.

“Had we known what we know now, we probably would have prepared differently in the spring. I feel like we’re in a much better position today,” he said. “We have much better support in place for students and families that need them, both academic, emotional, and social supports.”

According to Gengler, for most students in the 2020-2021 school year, 80% of their instruction is synchronous throughout the week.

“I feel terribl[e] that we can’t be here together under different circumstances,” said Gengler, “but I’m super proud of our teachers, our students, and our whole school community on how we’ve really come together under these circumstances to put out a healthy and positive experience. Getting through a health pandemic is unprecedented territory, and no one person has all the answers, so that’s why it requires partnership and cooperation from the school community.”