Owatonna Public Schools' Superintendent Jeff Elstad hosted the first "Coffee and Conversation" of the school year on Wednesday. Updates on COVID and handling the return to everyday class, in addition to the new high school dominated the informal talk. The district announced recently that Elstad will present a State of the District address that will be available on the district's website in early November.

On Wednesday, he reported the positivity rate for coronavirus in the district was 0.29% for that day. He said 5-percent is the threshold where extra measures would become necessary. Currently the district recommends masks but does not require it. Elstad indicated nothing over 2-percent has occurred to date, and mostly the rate is below 1-percent.

One parent on hand inquired about the frequency of notifications that her children had been exposed. Elstad contact tracing has changed over the course of the pandemic and isn't as detailed. He said they might be "over communicating" while "trying to be proactive."

He spoke of the challenges for teachers and counselors in the district dealing with the return to regular class after so many months without a full week of school for many students. He indicated that students' mental health is currently a large focus of the school district.

Elstad was joined by Bob Olson, Director of Facilities, Infrastructure, and Security, to report on the progress of the new high school. With the dry summer, the project is about a month ahead of schedule. The district has a website exclusively dedicated to updates on the construction with drone and still photographs available to see.

The school opens to students in the fall of 2023. Elstad says the hope is that staff will get the chance to get inside the building by the spring of 2023 in order to prepare for the fall.

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