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Back to class

LITTLEFORK - After 176 days, many Koochiching County students returned to classrooms this week.

It was a chilly morning Tuesday, as Littlefork-Big Falls students stepped off the bus for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the state — and much of the country — March 16.

Wearing masks, some students excitedly hurried toward the building, while others clung to their parents as separation anxiety set in.

L-BF school officials, along with others in the county, have long prepared for students’ return. In L-BF, a consulting agency, specializing in health and safety legislation, helped officials develop a plan for welcoming students back into the classroom.

“We have had to make a few physical changes within the building such as classroom locations and installing some glass barriers to be compliant, but we feel that getting the students back to school with in-person instruction is the most beneficial for our students,” Superintendent Jamie Wendt previously said.

“We also felt it is important to provide students, families, and staff with as much consistency as we can through all the changes. Therefore, it was our goal to streamline in-person and hybrid to the best of our ability. We feel that we have accomplished that goal.”

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School nurse Q and A: Keeping everyone safe and healthy

With the new school year at Falls Elementary School just days away, school nurse Leah Bacon provided the following insight into what new health protocols will be like at the school. 

The Journal asked the following:

Q: What are some of the new health procedures that will be implemented at the schools?

Bacon: We have implemented many procedures to keep students and staff SAFE this year. We will be following our Back-to-School Blueprint to ensure safety of students and staff. This includes following the decision tree from Minnesota Department of Health.

All staff and students will have their temperature measured with a no-contact thermometer and will be screened for other symptoms consistent with COVID-19 when they arrive at school each day. The symptoms screened for include fever, difficulty breathing, new or worsening cough, loss of taste or smell, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, new onset of runny nose or nasal congestion, sore throat, new onset of severe headache, excessive fatigue and extreme fussiness.

Administrative assistants will also be asking more questions than usual when parents/guardians call in student absences, such as degree of temperature and other symptoms associated with COVID-19 They will also be asking if the student has had contact with or exposure to anyone with COVID-19. We aren’t trying to be intrusive, we’re just trying to make sure no one comes back to school before they can safely return. I’m also asking parents/guardians to direct health related questions to the nurse.

Students will receive direct instruction on hand washing. Many visual aids will be placed throughout the schools to reinforce hand washing procedures, as well as the correct sequence of putting on and taking off masks.

They will be given time and encouraged to wash their hands several times throughout the school day.

Drinking fountains will not be used this year. The bottle refilling stations can still be used so we are asking parents to please send their child to school with a reusable water bottle labeled with his/her name.

Q: How should families monitor their child's health at home?

Bacon: Families should monitor their children and anyone else in the household for the above symptoms.

Q: Should parents/guardians take their child's temperature every morning?

Bacon: Parents/guardians are encouraged to check their child’s temperature in the morning before school. If they find their child has a fever of 100.0 F or more, they can keep them home without potentially exposing others to illness which helps keep others safe and our school open. Even if a temperature was checked at home, it will still be checked once they get to school.

Q: What do parents/guardians do if their child has a temperature?

Bacon: School district policy excludes students with a temperature of 100.0 F or more. If their child has a fever of 100.0, they should keep them home and make sure they contact an administrative assistant at either of the schools to report the absence.

According to the decision tree, if the temperature is over 100.4, any siblings should stay home as well. Again, the administrative assistants will be asking more questions than usual for absences. There may be a follow-up call from me to confirm or clarify any information that has been collected.

Q: What do parents/guardians do if their child is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses?

Bacon: Parents/guardians should keep their child home if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses to prevent spread. Depending on the symptoms, siblings should be kept home as well. The school should be notified if parents/guardians suspect the symptoms are related to COVID-19.

Q: If a child doesn't have a temperature, but has a cough or runny nose, can they come to school?

Bacon: In a normal year, yes. This is, however, anything but a normal year. School districts are required to follow the MDH COVID-19 decision tree. COVID-19 has “less common” and “more common” symptoms. You only need to have one “more common” symptom to be required to stay home. You need to have at least TWO of the “less common” symptoms to stay home. A runny nose is considered a less common symptom of COVID-19. A student with only a runny nose would not have to stay home if they felt well enough to come to school. A cough on the other hand is tricky. If it is a new or worsening cough, the decision tree considers that to be a “more common” symptom and would require the student to stay home based on the one symptom. In addition, if a student is sent or stays home with one “more common” symptom or two “less common” symptoms, siblings would also need to go or stay home and would need to stay home for 10-14 days.

Q: If a child comes to your office not feeling well, what steps will be taken?

Bacon: It depends on what symptoms are presenting. If one of the “more common” symptoms or at least two of the “less common” symptoms are present, they will be taken to the isolation area and further assessed. Parents/guardians will be asked to pick up their child as soon as possible or have an emergency contact pick up the student. The student will be escorted to the door once their transportation arrives. If parents are not able to answer the phone when we call, the next number on the contact list will be notified until we are able to find someone to pick up the student.

We will not be able to wait until a parent calls us back. We will be moving on to the next contact on the list. If none of the “more common” symptoms are present and only one of the “less common” symptoms are present and they feel well enough to return to class after they’ve rested, they may stay in school.

Q: If a child is not feeling well, but doesn't get a COVID-19 test, when can they return to school?

Bacon: If their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19 and they do not get tested, they must stay home for at least 10 days from the time symptoms started until symptoms improved AND no fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medications. According to the decision tree, siblings and household contacts stay home and quarantine from all activities for at least 14 days if they do not get symptoms. If siblings or household members do become symptomatic, they would stay home for 10 days from the time symptoms began until symptoms improve AND no fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medications.

Q: If a child does get a COVID-19 test and it's positive, when can they return to school?

Bacon: They must stay home for at least 10 days from the time the symptoms started until symptoms improved AND no fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medications.

Q: If a child tests for COVID-19, will the entire classroom be required to quarantine until results return?

Bacon: Currently, guidance from MDH does not require an entire classroom to quarantine while a student waits for results. If the results return positive, MDH and our Regional Coordinator help determine who would be considered a close contact.

Guidance from MDH is frequently updated so this could change. This is why it is so crucial that our daily strategies of wearing masks and social distancing are followed. They help us keep students safer and our schools open.

Q: Why are up-to-date immunizations important?

Bacon: Vaccinations help provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. Staying up to date protects against 14 serious childhood diseases like measles and whooping cough. There have been several outbreaks of measles and whooping cough in recent years. These diseases are extremely contagious and can be very serious, especially for babies and young children. As schools begin to reopen, protecting children against these and other diseases makes these vaccinations particularly important. Currently, both clinics in town are continuing to give vaccinations and are happy to help families stay caught up with vaccination schedules.

Q: What else would you like families to know as the first day of school approaches?

Bacon: Our goal is to ensure the health and safety of all our students and staff. More than any other school year, we needs parents and guardians to be partners in this effort by:

  • Sending students to school with masks and encouraging them to follow our guidelines of wearing masks, keeping distanced from others, washing hands frequently, and trying not to touch their face. Positive encouragement from parents can be very powerful.
  • Check and update family and emergency contact information including home, mobile, and work numbers. We need to be able to contact someone on short notice.
  • Be sure to have a plan for what your family will do if your child needs to be out of school for 10-14 days.
  • Keep lines of communication open. Please call the school if you have any questions or concerns and please answer the phone if someone from the school district calls. Together, we can make this year more successful.

I am so excited to see the students back to school, even from a social distance. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.

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Boat parade supports President Trump

RAINY LAKE - About 50 boats paraded near Rainy Lake resorts and Ranier Saturday for a parade supporting President Donald Trump.

Boat parades have become trend across the country for participants to show support for the president as he seeks reelection.

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New city position: Blight enforcement

International Falls will soon have a fire marshal to carry out blight enforcement.

The Falls City Council Tuesday approved a job description and agreed to proceed with first posting the job internally within the International Falls Fire Department.

The non-union position's annual salary was set at $67,237, based on a wage study of Duluth, Hibbing, Moorhead and Virginia, where similar positions exist, and conducted by Fire Chief Adam Mannausau.

The position, which could be in place before or by Jan. 1, will investigate fires and other hazardous conditions, conduct fire inspections on new construction, daycare and adult living facilities, hotels motels, boarding and apartment buildings, among other places.

Fire code violations and fire code complaints would be handled by the fire marshal as would the fire prevention program, in addition to other duties.

The position, which would be supervised by the fire chief, would be an integral part of, and funded through, a rental licensing program, which Mayor Harley Droba said has been in the works for five or six years.

Councilor Leon Ditsch asked Mannausau how creation of the position would affect his job.

"I should be able to do it better," Mannausau replied.

He told the council the temporary assistance in blight enforcement provided by Jared Baldwin, while recently assigned light duty on the fire department, demonstrates how committing to enforcement and followup can benefit the city.

Mannausau said the position would be doing things never done before in the city.

"There are some things we can do better and this position would help do that," he said.

In addition, Mannausau said he's been notified of an increase in the city's ISO rating. The ISO scores fire departments on how they are doing against its organization's standards to determine property insurance costs. After analyzing the data it collects, the ISO assigns a public protection classification on a scale from 1 to 10.

Mannausau said the city's rating is now 4, which could result in decreased insurance rates in the city.

"This position goes right along with that," he said.

The council discussed whether the position should be in place to assist in finalizing the rental licensing program.

Councilor Walt Buller and Droba voiced support for the position, as well as concern about creating the position before implementing the licensing fee program that will help pay for the position.

"The sooner we get this licensing thing in place, I will feel a lot better about it," Buller said. "I hate hiring a position thinking that's how we fund it and then we don't."

Councilor Brian Briggs agreed. "It's not fair to have taxpayers pay for it," he said. "We need to get funding figured out now."

City Administrator Ken Anderson reminded the council it must have a preliminary budget and levy for 2021 to Koochiching County Auditor before the end of September.

Anderson said financial analysis is needed to determine how to set rental licensing fees, and that will require counting rental units in the city to figure out how much money can and needs to be generated.

Anderson estimated that could be accomplished and the position hired by Jan. 1.

In related business, the council appointed, based on Fire Civil Service Commission recommendation, appointment of Andrew Eldien as assistant fire chief, following the retirement of David Vohler.

As a result, the council appointed Ryan Zub, current safety officer, as captain, resulting from the appointment of current captain Eldien as assistant fire chief. It also appointed John Winkel, firefighter, to safety officer, with appointment of Zub as captain.

Mannausau said each of the officers bring unique skills that make the appointments fit each well.

The council also Tuesday adopted a resolution supporting passage by the Minnesota Legislature of a bonding bill, allowing the state to borrow money and fund specific projects.

Locally, the city, in partnership with Koochiching County, have sought $2 million to assist in offsetting cost of runway and taxiway reconstruction now underway at the Falls International Airport.

The Legislature did not act on a bonding bill during the regular and last special sessions, but Gov. Tim Walz is expected to call another special session, as early as this week, and the Legislature could debate and consider the bonding bill then.

In the past, bonding money helped pay for the new airport terminal building.

Also, the council tabled until next meeting an application for removal of dilapidated uninhabitable trailers from each of two non-homesteaded properties, which have been used as rental units.

More information will be sought on options to offer the property owner, including removing and demolishing the trailers at no cost in exchange for title to the properties, located at 2105 and 2107 Third Ave. West.

The city demolition policy requires the council to approve using the city's demolition program for non-homesteaded properties. The council agreed the trailers there are an eyesore and deteriorated beyond repair.

Droba said it would not be right to have taxpayers remove the structures, with the property later being used as profitable rental units.

Other business

The council also:

  • Approved quote of $7,580 from PhysioControl/Stryker Medical for three video laryngoscope packages for the ambulance departments, with money from the city's portion of CARES funding.
  • Approved the final plat of the First Addition to the Industrial Business Park, which had been tabled earlier.
  • Approved reappointment of Shaila Spry to serve as City Beach Camp host next year from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • Authorized staff to seek quotes for the purchase and installation of a security access system for city buildings.
  • Heard from Droba that I Falls Nice has canceled the free showing of two movies at City Beach. Droba said recent free "drive-in" movies saw a drop off in attendance, and with cooler temperatures it didn't make sense to show them. He said the movies will be offered free next year in the summer.
  • Approved a request by Zachary Scofield for a variance to the city's electronic noise ordinance for an event at a residence on Ninth Avenue East from 7:30-11:45 p.m. Saturday. Anderson noted exceptions in the city ordinance are allowed by city approval. Scofield provided information about how parking and other issues would be handled, and Droba said he appreciated Scofield bringing the request to the council.
  • Adopted a resolution approving the sale of 17 tax forfeited properties within the city of International Falls by Koochiching County.
  • Declared a variety of items as surplus equipment from the police and public works departments and authorized sale via public auction online via Do-Bid.