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Board extends COVID-caused excused days
Seneca School District
Seneca School District

SENECA - It was a brief Seneca School Board meeting on Monday night, but that didn’t mean a few important issues weren’t addressed in the last meeting of 2020.

The board unanimously extended special COVID-excused days  for the staff until the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The special program was mandated by the federal government under the ‘Families First Corona Virus Response Act,’ which will expire on December 31.

The program allowed 10 extra excused days for staff that tested COVID positive and/or had to quarantine because of COVID. It also allowed staff to use the days to deal with needs arising from COVID infection and/or quarantine of family members.

Seneca District Administrator Dave Boland said that the use of the days varied among staff members. He noted some staff had used all days, some had used just a few days and some staff had not used any of the extra COVID-excused days.

Boland told the board that staff was very appreciative of having those extra days and not having to use regular sick days and personal days for COVID quarantines.

After a brief discussion of the situation, the board seemed to come to consensus that the program should be continued to the end of the year. It was noted the COVID pandemic is ongoing at this point.

“Given the situation, I think it’s the appropriate thing to do,” board member Charles Clark said of continuing the program. 

Board member Larry Kelley voiced his agreement with Clark that continuing the program was indeed appropriate.

Tyler Aspenson moved and Charles Clark seconded the motion to continue offering extra COVID-excused days through the rest of the school year. The motion was passed unanimously.

COVID also continued to impact the school’s athletic programs. Boland told the board that given the recommended separation requirements for COVID, only one of the three basketball teams could practice in the gym at a time. To allow this, it would be necessary to let practices go one hour longer on Wednesdays.

The district like other local school districts has always limited Wednesday practices to end by 6:30 p.m. To give three full practices to the teams it would be necessary to go to 7:30 p.m., Boland told the board. In part ending by 6:30 p.m. was done, to allow for some religious instruction by churches on Wednesday night.

It was noted by  board member Brittany Joy that there did not appear to be any religious instruction taking place at this point.

Board member Chad Sime confirmed that the Lutheran church he attends was not meeting in person.

Boland also told the board that the Ridge and Valley Conference administrators and athletic directors were seeking permission to use Wednesday as an option to reschedule games that are cancelled especially due to COVID concerns. The Seneca girls basketball team currently in quarantine will have three such games to reschedule when they resume play in January.

The problem becomes more difficult because of the condensed season to allow fall sports to be played between the winter sports season and spring sports season (a COVID measure). The basketball schedule going forward already has two scheduled games per week.

The district administrator said the first option was to drop non-conference games and play the make-up conference games. Another option is to play the games on Saturdays and the last option would be to schedule them on Wednesday if that was allowed.

Sime said he could support playing games on Wednesday under the current conditions, but had some fear that this could become the norm going forward. He said having no games on Wednesdays was good for the athletes and families and he wants to see that not be lost going forward.

“I’m afraid that someone is going to say well we played on Wednesday during the pandemic and that seemed to work out, why don’t we just keep doing that,” Sime said.

The board approved allowing later Wednesday practices to allow separate use of the gym by each team during its practice and also allow scheduling of  games on Wednesdays as a last option for getting them played.

Sime moved to allow later practices on Wednesday and scheduling of games on Wednesday if necessary, through the end of the 20-21 school year. Joy seconded the motion and the board passed it on a voice vote.

In other business, the Seneca Area School District Board:

• learned a call button with a camera had been installed at the elementary school door that allows staff in the high school office to see those wanting to enter the school and then allow them to do so

• approved retaining athletic training services from Vernon Memorial Healthcare

• rescheduled the next board meeting for Wednesday, Jan. 20

• learned the SHARE Project distributed 191 holiday baskets to those in need recently.

• learned Design Homes provided coats to those in need of them in the district

• gave the Seneca Area School District Monthly Award to Diane Yager for her work with coordinating the delivery of the holiday baskets; and to band director Phil Davies for his innovative production of a music audio featuring Seneca students in lieu of the live holiday concerts canceled due to pandemic concerns; and to Richard Kirchhoff, who  retired from the bus business and currently drives a bus, for his unpaid light maintenance help with the buses