New Policy Surfaces Removing Superintendent Authority Replacing with State Authority Over Testing, Tracing and Quarantines
New policies which remove superintendent/school district authority over students with possible or probable Covid-19 surfaced during the Governor’s press conference last Thursday. During the press conference, MDH Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller-Der explained that after testing had occurred within the schools, regional authorities would be contacted to take over the case with the student including the state Dept of Health and Dept of Education. If you didn’t realize that our schools have lost local control, these scenarios should signal a wake up call.
Just like our governor stated that school would have local-decision making in the reopen plans, he upended that statement by introducing an 18-page Dept of Health document laying out regulations and requirements for schools to follow. Here we have a similar scenario. There is a lot of double speak! Teachers will administer Covid tests to their own students and then if positive, the state-local school, Incident Command Team. will refer the child to regional authorities who will be immediately in control of the students’ health going forward. Principals and Superintendents will then be under “continuous consultative partnerships,” as the state removes local authority and administers a pre-set list of regulations. Superintendents will focus on educational; the Dept of Health and others will focus on student health in a way never seen before. In other words, should your child be considered positive, probable or possible for Covid, there will be immediate involvement by the state and regional authorities regarding your child, leading to the relinquishment of local school and charter school authority. In fact late in the speech, local community leaders (mayors, city council, etc) are included to also relinquish their authority to the state.
When will the parents be called? There was no discussion about calling parents and saying that your child may need a test – Come and get them now. No, there was no mention of parents regarding testing whatsoever. MACC sees additional issues regarding teachers medically testing their own students. What exactly does “not feeling well” look like? Mueller-Der talks about “possible, probable, tested yet no results” as reasons to move forward with state/regional actions. Far too much in this speech is open-ended. If teachers are allowed to medically test for Covid now, what might they be able to do medically to students down the road? For one, teachers do not have medical degrees. The testing in itself, is an incredible overreach. So there was no talk of parent notification or the consent to be tested at school.
If you didn’t read our first article on the Governor Walz and MDH Commissioner Malcolm’s speeches from last Thursday, please read here. https://commoncoremn.com/2020/07/31/walz-calls-for-local-district-decision-making-while-pushing-state-guidelines-and-requirements-for-matrix-extensive-testing-and-quarantines/
Salient points from our first article include:
18-pg MN Dept of Health document that includes regulations and requirements for schools
Regional support teams include the Regional Service Cooperative, County Public Health office, Minnesota Depts of Health and Education.
State “continuous consultation” with administration
State-led local school ICTs or Incident Command Teams that will pinpoint any child that might have Covid
Teachers administer Covid-19 tests to students
Governor Walz calls for “extensive testing in the schools”
Beginning around the 46:00 minute mark, we’ve transcribed the press conference for those who prefer to read over listen. We know this is long, but we are hopeful that parents and teachers not only begin to really understand what this Fall might look like in the schools but also push back against government (and likely corporate in the wings) overreach in our local communities.
Additional topics include funding and utilization (federal funding that comes with strings), “student accelerated learning”, “accelerated learning for 0 to 8 year old “students”, focus on technology, the “digital divide”, funding for technology, wearing face coverings, teacher testing, a “testing event”, student and teacher testing, teachers testing students immediately and universal testing. Here’s the video followed by transcription. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qfo3azfAlB0&fbclid=IwAR0akEQRj33_EMondPGR8MZECj-hWVbZfvz4nR4fDvorcAQNDRqaFW63fTg
MDH Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller
“And finally, the last thing we need to talk about are the components around testing. We know once we finally get our students back in the buildings, if that is the base model, if that is what is expected and supported, then we have the opportunity to be thoughtful about how we can support our staff and students in that testing.
46:32 “So first I’d like to talk about where we’re putting our human resources and our capital. We recognize our superintendents and our charter school leaders run entire school districts and communities. We recognize the importance around that comes from being able to support the academic social-emotional, health, safety and wellness of our students as well as our mental health and nutritional needs.”
“While we have a Covid-19 pandemic we also need to be thoughtful about how we will continue to promote that work and public health supports that we need. So we have developed a regional team, a support team, that is inclusive of the MN Dept of Education, the Dept of Health, our Regional Service Cooperatives and local Public Health officials. That gives us the opportunity to, for example, if there is a case in a school or school district, the superintendent would contact the Regional Service Cooperative and they would say essentially, “We have a case or confirmed case in our building. What do we do next?” They would be able to work with our service cooperative person and would work with our local health officials as well as MN Dept of Health. While the superintendent can turn back to what they need to focus on, that is their school community and communications with families, continuing to the academic needs and all the other pieces they’re doing. So while the superintendent is doing that work, our regional support teams members will be coming together and thinking about what does that mean for a school district? How would we be able to ensure that we do contact tracing? They would come up with that plan and then be able to come back and work with that superintendent in partnership. That goes back to that consultative model that we’ve talked about quite frankly a bit in the beginning of, looking at the science, at no point in time are we saying that superintendents and charter school leaders are on their own, in these decisions. It gives us the opportunity to have a partner in this work and we’re not going to stop there. So once we have our regional teams up and running we will have the opportunity to focus in and come back in and support cases when there is a Covid-19 case in their school community.”
“We also are thoughtful about the funding. Once that we’ve identified what the human capacity and support is it’s really we’re important to be thoughtful about where are we going to put our monetary resources because those resources are also an indication of value. And the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have been very clear in this. Since we have started with Covid, we have supported our schools and our K-12 education programming with the recommendation of over $430M in supports. The first of that came with $38M that were identified for K-12 schools in our Gears funding.”
“Those funds [Gears] were identified for 3 basic things: the first, focus on technology. We know there is a digital divide and to provide for students and ensure that we have a model beyond brick and mortar settings, if needed. We also identified in those Gears dollars that we would need a staffing support, specifically this summer. To be really thoughtful how we’re going to continue to accelerate our learners and be really purposeful about how we talk about the acceleration of our learners. We don’t want to put learning loss on the backs of students’ shoulders. Covid is not their fault. Covid is something that has happened and is a societal response, we we are talking about not from a deficit base but from a strength base. We have the opportunity to accelerate learning and Gears dollars will help and has been identified to do that as well recognizing the opportunity for 0 – 8 year old students to have our littlest learners in Minnesota and have the opportunities to have some enrichments throughout the summer. So those were the 3 priorities that were identified with that $38M. In addition to our school districts have had the opportunity to utilize $140M in ESSER funds. Again we identified some priorities with in that. The first priority was specifically to look at technology. If you were not able to close the digital divide with the Gears dollars that were assigned and allocated to you, you can also use your ESSER funds to shore that up. The 2nd piece that we prioritized within the ESSER funds was staffing. How you will staff up your buildings and your schools so you have what you need to support you, your students and your staff and your families. And the third piece is around mental health and that was something that was really important to talk about simply because we know the impacts of Covid and the change in routine for students has caused a lot of stress not only in our students but also in our families. And we wanted to ensure that as we were thinking about models that are supported for our students, that was one of the things we were prioritizing.”
“And finally we are requesting additional funding from the Corona Virus Relief Fund for $250M in specific areas. First is an operational costs and the 2nd is in student and staff and family support. When we think of operational cost not only did we use the base information and the science. The Dept of Health has helped to provide as a place to start thinking about our learning scenarios but is also giving us the thinking of how when we get back into the buildings – What else do we need to think about? Or that we haven’t been able to budget for before. We’re having to clean in ways that we’ve never had to do before. We’ve never been able to budget for that and other things. We’re going to be transporting differently than we ever have before in a hybrid model. We have to be able to think about that differently and we have to provide funds to that.”
“Protective equipment: Thinking about how it is that we can support our close proximity. Adults who are working with students who are medically fragile and hot it is effective equipment and supporting that. Cleaning our buses and those pieces we need to be thoughtful about. The other piece is the support for our students and families. We know that once you get them into the buildings, there’s so much that goes beyond the operations of a school. It’s everything else. So we’re thinking about how it is we can increase protective materials which is something that became apparent from our community outreach and our families that we need to be able to do differently and we need to be able to do better. We need to be able to be thoughtful about how we are .. then continue to be able to support the mental health and social-emotional health of our students. How are we going to be able to continue to grow technology and devices if you still have not been able to finish shoring up that digital divide and how is that we’ll be able to provide tutors? And so that request has been sent forward to the governor and have their support in that and are very thankful to be able to identify that funding.”
“The other thinking I didn’t identify came from the Executive Order regarding face coverings…. 53.32 The Governor’s Executive Order. Face masks are as important as a pencil, or a pen or paper or device in the buildings. The state will provide face masks for every K-12 students and adult in educational settings. So every single students in a K-12 will have 1 cloth face mask. Every single teacher and staff member will have 1 cloths face mask. Every single school will receive 3 disposable face masks per student… We never want a face mask to be a reason the student is unable to come into the building. And we know that we can provide them and it’s not going to be just students but also grown-ups that forget them. And the final thing is that every school receive face shields because our youngest learners need these for appropriate development with adults… Face shields also important for students who are deaf and hard of hearing and need to be able to read lips. So face shields are important. Every teacher and 50% of non-licensed staff will have a face shield.”
55:35 “If or when we have a case of Covid in the schools, whether that comes through a student or through an adult, we know that it is incredibly important for our staff member and our students to have access to testing. So the first thing the Governor and Lieutenant Governor asked us to figure out is for educators and staff members through K-12 to have availability for a test at no cost. 56:24 So we have identified a process where a saliva test for every single educator throughout Minnesota will have a saliva test test that is for them. Each teacher or staff will have 1 because if there is a point in time where they realize there is a student who is sick in the classroom or they’re not feeling well and they may not be able to get in immediately, we can give them some peace of mind. [Immediate testing in the schools!] They would essentially do the saliva test, they would seal that up and send it off and within 24 – 48 hours they would have the response. 57:10 A student’s safety and health and wellness is at the center of every decision we make around our efforts to move forward in the Fall with the K-12 education system.”
57:26 “In addition, the Dept of Health has given guidance prioritizing for our educators that they are testing and prioritized within the testing. So that means that they will test. If there is a case for exposure whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic that means they have also been identified as critical workers and have the opportunity to be tested and prioritized within the testing. That means if they are exposed, are symptomatic or asymptomatic they will have the opportunity to be tested and prioritized within the testing. And we really appreciate the guidance that the Dept of Health has given it and we also know that that is another place where staff and students will find peace of mind.
“And finally, we also know there may come a time when, where the Commissioner of Health, Commissioner Malcolm, talked a little bit about when there is the possibility of 50+ cases in a community or school community, then it might warrant a “TESTING EVENT”. And as such, we have identified specific individuals who will be able to, from the state agencies, coordinate those events within those schools communities because we know our school superintendents and our charter school leaders and our community leaders are busy leading in their communities. We want to give them the opportunity to continue to lead [in some areas?] while we support them and their efforts. And so we will be using a TESTING EVENT.”
“And finally, what that kind of goes along with the testing, there are a couple of different things to think about that is possible that if a student or a staff member is feeling ill or needs to go in or someone who has already been tested that we use our local provider testing when possible. We want to ensure continuity of care for student and staff with state assistance which will coordinate with them and their local public health officials as needed. It also means that our state will supplement local resources with staff, lab capacity logistics and results in other assistance and know how important this one particular factor is in our education. And then if appropriate, we would move toward a UNIVERSAL and consider UNIVERSAL TESTING [All are tested!], if that is warranted.”
Children are not wards of the state. Whether sick or not, children belong to families. Parents care for their own children and care for them well! The state and regional minions do not need to be involved particularly since the large majority of children do not become seriously or gravely ill with Covid. Thousands of contact tracers have been hired for the purpose of quarantining individuals and finding at least 16 to 20 more individuals who are either possible or deemed probable cases for each positive test case. MACC has written about the documents Make-A-Plan Minnesota where parents reveal copious amounts of information about their children (how they get to sleep, their favorite stuffed animal, favorite foods) and even include parent’s Last Will and Testament. Is that document in conjunction with the role state authorities will play in positive student cases pointing toward children being quarantined away from their families? It’s something to consider!