Enrollment in Osakis schools is looking good after the first week of school – despite circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Elementary Principal Shad Schmidt and high school Principal Brad Hoffarth updated the school board members during the Monday, Sept. 14, regular school board meeting.

According to first-day enrollment numbers, there were a total of 431 students in grades 7-12, with all but 22 doing in-person learning. And at the elementary level, there were 399 students, with 21 of those students doing distance learning at home. The total for the district is 830 students which is down 17 from the 847 students at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Schmidt mentioned there are 34 elementary students who opted out of the school district – four who are doing online, 12 who are being homeschooled, 11 who opted for parochial and seven who are in other area schools. If not for the circumstances, Schmidt said he is not sure these numbers would be the same.

Regardless of the slight decrease, both Schmidt and Hoffarth, along with Superintendent Randy Bergquist and Activities Director Pat Kalpin, said they are all excited and happy to have students back in school.

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“It lifts you up to see all the kids,” said Kalpin.

Bergquist said that the school district is working closely with Horizon Public Health, Minnesota Department of Health and Lakes Service Co-op in monitoring the COVID-19 situation and that the district has done a great job at following guidelines and procedures for keeping all students and staff safe and healthy.

He also stated that he wanted to quash any rumors of staff or students being impacted by the coronavirus.

“As of Monday, Sept. 14, there are no confirmed cases in the Osakis School District,” said Bergquist, who added that he has had phone calls from concerned parents. “I do not know of anyone who has tested positive in our district. We are very closely and seriously watching it and are in extensive communication with public health and the Minnesota Department of Health.”

Osakis School Board member Tom Grundman said he is overwhelmed by how well the school district is handling everything related to COVID-19 and the precautionary measures that are being taken.

“We support you and everything you are doing,” he said.

Mike Collins, vice chair of the school board, said he was impressed by the attitude of the teachers and staff and said that his kids could feel the enthusiasm of the teachers.

COVID coordinator, funding

Bergquist also said that the state Department of Health expressed a desire for all school districts to name someone as the “COVID coordinator.” By a vote of 5-0, Lisa Lien, the Osakis School District administrative assistant, was named to the position. She will work closely with staff on COVID-19 related items.

To help pay for items related to COVID-19, the district received funds – $211,000 – from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. This provides money to help navigate through the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Bergquist said he is working on the budget for items that the district has already purchased and will be purchasing with the funds. He noted that many items were purchased locally and he gave a special shout out to Osakis True Value for working with the school district on purchasing items as well as for the items the local hardware store donated.

Food program

Bergquist was excited to announce that the Osakis School District is now an open site for its food program, which means that the district can provide breakfast and lunches to children ages 0-18, regardless if they are enrolled in the district or not.

And he said that through a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all school meals will be free through Dec. 31 or earlier if funding is exhausted. Effective on Monday, Sept. 4, all students will be able to eat breakfast and lunch free of charge. Milk at snack break, extra milk and a la carte items, however, are not free of charge.

The meals will not be delivered, however, and will need to be picked up at the designated times. Parents will need to contact the school district for more information and pick up times.

“This is great for families and great for the kids,” said Bergquist. “Everyone eats free. We are very happy for our families.”