Schools closed as COVID-19’s impact deepens

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

With Wisconsin and South Dakota both closing their schools, absenteeism in Minnesota schools increasing, the number of COVID-19 cases rising by 14 to 35 overnight Saturday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called for schools in the state to close for the next eight to 10 days. He made the announcement during a 10 a.m. Sunday press conference.

School administrators and teachers are to use those days to implement a local plan for continuing to provide an education for students in the coming days, and possibly weeks. Schools can close as early as Monday but must be closed by Wednesday and remained closed through Friday, March 27.

Benson Public Schools closed Monday and will remain closed until Friday, March 27.

“This will meet the executive order by the governor issuing a mandatory of closing schools as well as guidance by the Minnesota Department of Health to limit gatherings to under 250 people to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” Supt. Dennis Laumeyer announced in statement to parents and students.

The statement further said: “Students and parents are allowed to come to the schools Monday morning from 8 am to noon to pick up materials and personal belongings such as snow pants, hats, mittens, etc.  BHS seniors need to drop off scholarship forms in Mr. Strands office by noon on Monday.

“Starting Monday, March 16, at noon the school buildings will be closed to everyone except for school staff.

“Distance learning for students will begin Tuesday, March 17 – March 27.  Teachers will be reaching out to students and families with lessons and learning opportunities.  Parents can contact teachers via email and by leaving a message on teachers’ phones at school. Students can expect to have lessons every school day.

“All practices and activities have been postponed through March 29.

“…teachers and staff will work diligently to provide quality instruction to students. We thank you for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.  More information will be shared as the Minnesota Department of Health and MDE provide more guidance.”

 At a news conference Saturday Walz had said that schools would remain open in Minnesota, but he said he continued to consult with other governors, health officials, and school officials before making the decision to temporarily close Minnesota schools. Based on the current spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, it is suspected schools will remain closed beyond March 27.

 “My top priority as governor is the safety of Minnesotans. As a former teacher, and father of two teenage kids, I’m especially focused on the safety of our children,” Walz said in a news release just prior to the press conference.

“I am ordering the temporary closure of schools so educators can make plans to provide a safe learning environment for all Minnesota students during this pandemic. Closing schools is never an easy decision, but we need to make sure we have plans in place to educate and feed our kids regardless of what’s to come,” he said.

The news comes as Walz said Minnesota’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 35 on Sunday, up from 14 on Friday and 21 on Saturday. Monday that number jumped by another 19 to 54.

Walz’s said his order allows “for school administrators and teachers to make long-term plans for the continuity of education and essential services during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It “requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders, and other emergency workers” so those individuals can stay on the job. It also “makes provisions for the continuity of mental health services and requires schools to continue providing meals to students in need.”

The decision affects more than 850,000 K-12 students and more than 135,000 teachers and staff in public K-12 schools across the state, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Walz had said calling off school was a tough call because closing schools would create hardship for parents and take kids out of an environment where some depend on meals and daytime care.

There also were concerns such a move could draw down the number of available nurses and other professional medical staff who’d need to stay home with their kids if schools were shut down.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has now been confirmed in Washington and Waseca counties, the state health department reported. Other counties with confirmed cases include Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns and Wright.

“While most have an identified source of exposure, with the limitations that we’ve discussed on testing capacity nationwide, there’s just much we don’t know about the potential degree of community transmission in Minnesota,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “As I’ve said before, it’s a matter of when, not if, we will have community spread. And how effectively we can slow down and spread out the growth of this disease in our communities is the key.”

Malcolm said most of the cases have not required hospitalization.

Lunches for students
Benson Schools will have a bag lunch with a breakfast bag for the next day available for pickup at up to 10 locations throughout the school district. A survey was it out by Tuesday for families to sign up for meals.

This program will be open to any child who is aged 18 and under. The locations were not named as of Monday. The Swift County Monitor-News will post them to its website ( as soon as they are made available.

Also, look for more information under the Benson School website:  and under our District Facebook site.

Please contact the district office for more information.

April 14 levy referendum
& March 23 meeting
The Monday, March 23, public meeting on the proposed District 777 $1.5 million levy referendum to building a activities building has been postponed.

The referendum is scheduled to take place Tuesday, April 14, with polls open at the Benson Armory from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  Absentee ballots are available through the Swift County Auditor’s Office.

While the 11,000-square-foot steel building will house gymnastics, the space could be used by the football team to practice on a rainy day in the fall, it could also be used for tennis, track, baseball and softball on days when the weather is bad as well.

There will be changing rooms, rest rooms, equipment storage space and a pit for gymnasts to practice over. It will be just north of the high school’s auxiliary gym and east of the Benson football field. The school district already owns the property.

Editor’s Note: Some information for this story was provided by Minnesota Public Radio.