BIRD ISLAND, Minn. — In late June The Land reported on St. Mary’s School in Bird Island, Minn. With all of the debate and controversy regarding students returning to in-school learning, I spoke with St. Mary’s Principal Tracey Sigurdson concerning some new changes her students will see this year.

Sigurdson said each student gets a 3-second temperature scan across their foreheads; then a quick scanning of their backpack. Called a HamiltonBuhl’s Vray cordless UV-C sanitizer, this back pack scanner sanitizes against human coronavirus and influenza A virus on items such as pens and pencils, scissors, desktop surfaces, books, staplers, iPads, smart phones, rugs, toys and more.

Should a scanner detect a virus, the UV light is 99.9 percent effective in killing any detected viruses, noted Sigurdson.

St. Mary’s protocol requires some extra chores for custodial staff as well. Doug Olinger, St. Mary’s facility manager (with some help) will be doing daily sanitizing of each of the nine classrooms.

Student desks are spaced 6 feet apart in Pre-K; 5-foot spacing in the other classrooms. Also, each student’s desk now sports a “student splash shield” kept in place with velcro attached to desk tops. 

Funding through special Covid-19 Federal resources covers costs of these additions.

Related Sigurdson, “I could see both State Department of Education and some federal proposals were spelling out what needed to be done.  So Carren and I went online, checking what’s cost-effective and do-able for us. We even checked what other schools in other states were doing. Once we had the data, we submitted our plans to our advisory board. They merely responded, ‘You got to do what you got to do’ and here we are”.

Sigurdson also noted, ”A new change this year: teachers in 6, 7 and 8th grades will move from class to class rather than students moving.  Yes, this too is a recommendation of new state guidance protocols.  But this is asking students to sit for a long time — especially after being out of school for five months.  So we know we’ll have to implement some break sessions for them too.

“If we can do some outdoor teaching, that is strongly encouraged. Fresh air is good for young kids too. And if we continue to be blessed with good weather, then why not enjoy the beautiful scenery provided by Mother Nature?”

St. Mary’s is making a change in food service too.  “Instead if each student filling their own tray this year, our cooks will take each tray, put the prescribed food items for that particular day on the tray, and at the end of this preparation line, the tray will be handed to each student,” Sigurdson explained.

”We all need patience through this Covid-19 pandemic. That’s the hardest hurdle because people want answers. Our saving grace is we just need to use common sense keeping safety in mind for both students and staff.  We need to be up-front to parents about St. Mary’s School.  We can be their ‘safe haven’ so their working life can resume as needed. Sure, it’s a struggle, but through cooperation we can and we will succeed for that brighter, happier day just ahead,” summed up Sigurdson.

Eight-year old Bryce Smith isn’t concerned about these changes, “If this is part of this virus protection we’re hearing so much about, so be it.  This doesn’t bother me.  I like getting back to school again. Our teachers are nice; it’s great seeing friends again.  Plus my Grandma works here so I get to see her every day also”.