WORTHINGTON — Unless the COVID-19 situation changes, District 518 will move from mandated face masks to optional masking on Monday.

“I do believe masks have limited what we have had to do as far as quarantining and keeping kids in school,” said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard at a Monday meeting of the District 518 Instructional Committee. “... and again, my goal is absolutely to avoid hybrid and distance (learning).”

District 518 has been basing its COVID-19-related decisions on data and recommendations from health care professionals, according to its website.

Landgaard said COVID numbers in Nobles County are dropping slightly, enabling the changeover to optional masks, but if COVID-19 cases go up again, mandatory masks could return.

“Will it change our quarantining if we do have a case?” asked Lori Dudley, school board member.

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Landgaard answered that quarantine protocols do change with optional masking. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of their symptoms. They may return to work if they feel better, if it has been 10 days since they first felt sick and if they have had no fever for at least 24 hours, without using medicine that lowers fevers.

If someone has tested positive for COVID and has no symptoms, that person must still stay home and away from others for 10 days.

If notified of a possible exposure to a positive COVID-19 case, the protocol is different for those who have been fully vaccinated, provided it has been two weeks since their last dose of vaccine. Vaccinated people must get tested five to seven days after exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days following exposure, or until their test is negative.

Those who were notified of exposure but who have not been fully vaccinated must also get tested five to seven days after the exposure. If the test is negative but symptoms occur, it is recommended that they retest.

Unvaccinated individuals who have been exposed may enter the school building for work or education but must be masked. If they choose not to mask, they will then need to be quarantined for seven to 14 days, depending on factors such as negative test results, days since exposure and presence of symptoms.

District 518 will post complete quarantine requirements on its website.

Landgaard reminded people that students who are sick should stay home rather than go to school — a statement also included in the COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

In other news Monday, the instructional committee:

  • Received an update on District 518 enrollment figures, which are about 200 students up from the previous year. As of Oct. 1, Prairie Elementary had 1,144 students, Worthington Middle School had 970 students, Worthington High School had 1,066 students, the Learning Center had 137 students and there were 44 students in the pre-K early childhood special education program, for a total of 3,361. In addition, 416 students are enrolled in the school’s online VIBE program, 101 students are in St. Mary’s School, 89 in Worthington Christian School and 29 are homeschooled.

  • Learned about the purchase of time with an online tutoring service for students who are struggling in the classroom, or with a specific class, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Heard that the school is considering the possibility of adding a second school resource officer, following a request from Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel. The position would be paid for with a combination of money through the Safe Schools program and District 518’s general fund.

  • Had an update on the WMS crossing guards, who are still shepherding students across the street near the middle school. Landgaard said it would take a community effort including the city of Worthington, Nobles County and the school district to get the issue of increased traffic in that area addressed, as the Minnesota Department of Transportation controls the intersection.

  • Considered getting a student representative to attend school board meetings again, a practice that had fallen by the wayside during the pandemic.

  • Heard that District 518 is still hiring paraprofessionals as well as some other positions.