Area schools prepare for safe return to the classroom

(ABC 6 News) – Southeastern Minnesota and Northern Iowa schools are preparing for students and staff to get back in the classroom this year.

Most of the smaller school districts have one main thing in common: It is up to students and staff if they want to wear masks to school.

"We’re doing everything we possibly can. We truly believe the best place for kids is in school, both from an educational, social and emotional standpoint. And so we’re trying to do everything we can to keep the kids in school," Doug Gee, superintendent of Clear Lake School District, said.

For smaller school districts like Lanesboro, which have just over 400 students in the entire district, will not be requiring masks, just recommending.

"For our smaller schools we have a little bit of a luxury that our class sizes are a little bit smaller, we have a little bit more room between kids. All of those things that are sort of the standard mitigating procedures," Matt Schults, superintendent of Lanesboro Public Schools, said.

Supt. Schultz said nearly 100 percent of his staff have been vaccinated and most of the students in the district over the age of 12 have been as well. He said it’s important to have the kids back in the classroom.

"It’s important that we give the kids the opportunities to have those experiences that we all had. As long as we can do it safely, I think I’m going to be pretty comfortable with the year," Schultz said.

For Albert Lea Area Schools, Dr. Mike Funk said the district is strongly recommending that students and staff who are not vaccinated mask up.

For a lot of schools, masking is just one of the multi-layered strategies being used to ensure safety. But something unique to Albert Lea is the thermal scanners that were installed last year.

"People when they come in the door students and staff members all go through a scanner every day and it checks their body temperature so that helps us if people aren’t aware that they’re ill," Dr. Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools, said.

Something also unique to Albert Lea is every student and staff member in the district has to answer a three-question screening survey every day asking if they have symptoms of COVID-19, if anyone at home is sick, or if they’ve been exposed to anyone with the virus.

Schools like Albert Lea are also planning on being more strict on seating charts and having QR codes at tables for contract tracing purposes.

"I think folks will make the right decision and we’ll have a good school year this year," Supt. Schultz said.

Byron Public Schools will also not be mandating masks this school year. As of now the only school district in the area requiring masks is Rochester Public Schools.