Two school district staff test positive for COVID-19

Mike Christopherson

Two Crookston Public Schools staff members have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, Superintendent Jeremy Olson confirms to the Times. One has completed the required quarantine, he said, and the other will be out of quarantine soon.

Olson notified staff via a staff-wide email, and in that email also included various precautionary steps, some of which took effect on Monday, July 13, as the school district positions itself for the start of the 2020-21 school year and determines what form that start will take, whether it be in-person, distance learning, or a combination of the two.

Among the practices being implemented and/or stressed are:

• Temperature checks in the morning when staff arrive at work: This is a new requirement, Olson said. Per state and public health requirements, anyone having a temperature of 100.4 or greater will be required to go home.

• While not yet in effect, Olson also notified staff in the email that they will be asked to wear masks in the future if face-to-face instruction is the mode of operation the district is in. An order of Pirate masks, two for each staff member, has been placed, the superintendent said. In a phone conversation with the Times on Tuesday, Olson acknowledged that there are “very divergent views” on wearing masks among staff members.

“Some want (a mask requirement) implemented right now, and some say they will never, ever (wear a mask),” Olson said. His mask announcement in his email was sort of a “shot across the bow,” he added, so that “people can come to terms” with what will be coming if students actually return to the classroom in the fall.

Olson tried to cover all the bases in regard to divergent views on masks and also provide ample time to come to terms with the situation in his staff-wide email:

“While I know there are broad and divergent views on mask wearing by our staff, the goal is to keep our staff and students safe and to be ready for the start of the school year. When we start the school year, it is my intention to ask all staff members to wear masks; however, we may implement this sooner depending on the metrics in our community,” he stated in his email. “We will of course take a common sense approach to how we implement this. I am letting you know about this upcoming ask as I do not want to surprise everyone when we do make this request of our staff.”

In his email, Olson also strongly encouraged staff to continue to practice strict social distancing. It’s simple and practical, he said. “Six feet or more of separation is important. I am really asking for your help in this area,” he stated in the email. “This means lunch time, break time, etc.; we need to make sure that we are vigilant.”

Talking with the Times Tuesday, Olson acknowledged that social distancing practices were less apparent at a couple recent school board meetings. “If we’re going to tell people to social distance, then we need to showcase that publicly and be a good example in what we exhibit,” he said. “To not do that is hypocritical.”

No further information on the two cases

Asked if he was willing or able to say which school buildings the two staff who tested positive for coronavirus work in, Olson said he would not divulge any additional information. He doesn’t want anyone to be “publicly shamed” in any way, shape or form, he said, but he also wants staff to not be afraid to be forthright if they find themselves in a similar situation.

“People talk so much already; it’s human nature,” Olson said. “But we want to incentivize people to do the right thing, and in this case it’s not being afraid to be forthcoming with us and know that we are going to respect confidentiality and privacy.”

As an example, Olson said the district has had “self-quarantining situations” during the pandemic in which staff have thought they may have had COVID-19 and came forward, and subsequently went into 14-day quarantine and tested negative for the virus.

“It’s about proceeding with an abundance of caution. We don’t want to be flagrant in our missteps,” Olson said. “We want people to know we’re working with the public health experts and doing what’s required of us. We want people to feel we’re being transparent with them. We want people to feel they can trust us.”