BOSCOBEL - The Boscobel School District will be going back to five days a week, but masks in class are here to stay until the end of the school year.
The Boscobel School Board held a Special Meeting to address several topics, including masks, virtual learning and new phone systems.
School Board President Todd Miller shared with the board that when the board adopted the mask resolution they had designed it to continue in the event of the state overturning the mandate, as has happened recently.
“In a survey conducted by CESA of 31 schools asking if schools will continue to enforce the masking or create new policy around it, all of the schools, which is I think around 25, responded that they would require masking until the end of the school year,” explained Interm-Boscobel School District Administrator Bryce Bird. He added that there are a small number of schools in northern Wisconsin that have abolished their mask mandates, noting that it was his recommendation to keep the current mask policy to the end of the school year but explore dropping masks for outdoor events, as well as possibly pivoting away from them during summer learning.
“I don’t like wearing masks as much as anyone else, but we’ve made it this far and we have a lot of events coming up in the spring and I’d hate to do anything to stir up more quarantine events or anything that would lead to a cancelation of anything like graduation,” Bird expressed. “It’s one thing if it’s your kid, but we’re in charge of the safety of many peoples’ kids.”
Community member Clark Jillson addressed the board on the topic.
“I’m glad the board is talking about this,” Jillson said. “We obviously know that the mandate is no longer being enforced and I understand the concern. But I’m from the side of things that we know that COVID isn’t an issue between students. I’m suggesting to the board to make it a choice. Granted I know there is no other example of this happening in Southwest Wisconsin, but we don’t have to follow what everyone else does. I just think there are so many kids that are not wearing masks and not spreading Covid at all. I encourage the board to make it a choice.”
Newly elected school board member Casey Updike expressed his feelings to the board regarding masking at the school.
Risk “null and void”
“If we look back at the summer of 2020, why did we send kids to school with masks? We had concerns about kids contracting Covid and bringing it home and spreading it to the vulnerable populations. But now with at least 50 percent of the population with their first vaccine, the risk is null and void. We have to have good reason to be requiring them to keep wearing the masks. Going forward we need to show our parents and community that masks are not forever and they’re coming off. I am ready to make a motion that masks be removed at the elementary level and use them as a pilot, revisit it in two weeks and see if there is spread. And then if there is, we can isolate it.”
Following this comment, Elementary School Principal Danielle Schmid shared her thoughts.
“With all due respect Casey, I disagree. Susan Brinkman (school nurse) and Jeff Kindrai (Grant County Department of Health Director) both are not in favor of taking away masks and they both agree it is too soon. Where we are at with the numbers and what the CDC is saying and with Jeff saying there is an uptick in cases. Not to mention when we tell the little ones they don’t need a mask, and then suddenly we see an uptick in numbers and we have to put the masks back on, that isn’t an easy transition for the kiddos. I just don’t think the timing is right.”
School Board Member Kim Trumm also echoed this statement, adding that at the daycare level, they are seeing a lot more spread and outbreaks among the younger set. And that younger students like sixth graders could also miss out on events forthcoming.
“In the same token, younger kids could contract it and infect older siblings and cause issues with graduation and games that are coming,” Schmid added.
“We’re almost there,” said conflicted sounding, long-time board member Rodger Knoble. “But even if you use the word ‘choice’ it will make it hard for the teachers. I don’t even personally know if I believe in the damn masks but having one kid just seeing another not wearing theirs will make it hard for them to keep theirs on even if that is what their mother and father asked them to do.”
“I just want to ask, why is it so important not to wait out the five weeks and close out the year wearing the masks?” Bird questioned.
Jillison took the reins on answering this question and noted “We can set the precedent in the community for moving on,” he said.
“They can move on but this group is in charge of these children’s safety,” Bird responded. “We can be tapering, moving slowly into being mask less. I suggest waiting to the end. Everyone has to be in school but not everyone has to be in summer school and summer activities. Those are optional, and we could look at dropping the masks then and during outdoor activities.”
“I’m on the fence”
“This just really makes me wish some of you all (parents)would call your school board members,” Knoble said. “I’m on the fence about it not knowing what the parents want. And I’d much rather hear from a parent on the phone than someone trying to update my car warranty anyway.”
Miller made the motion to keep masks in the classroom setting, but make them optional at outdoor events where individuals are able to maintain social distance.
Updike seconded and added, “We need to revisit it and work to inform students and parents on why we are keeping masks on our kids!”
It was also noted that Boscobel will be the only district currently where masks at outdoor events are an option. When traveling to other schools, masks will still be required and the WIAA rules will need to be followed.
Next up for the board was the long discussed virtual Wednesdays. It was shared that there are approximately 21 students currently at the elementary level who are fully virtual and 37 at the high school level. These full-time virtual students utilize these Wednesday’s when other students are learning virtually to have a chance to get extra help learning from their teachers, make up tests, and complete other tasks. Additionally, teachers use this as their prep time for virtual learners as well as in person learners.
“There has been a lot of chatter in the community about what the kids are doing on Wednesdays,” board member Wendi Stitzer shared.
“Parents are going to work and gotta make a choice. It’s not an easy decision for our parents,” Updike stated. “I have an eight and 11-year-old at home and I don’t think a whole lot of learning is going on during Wednesdays. Adults have a hard time doing virtual learning. How can we expect our kids to do it? Our kids need to come first.”
Schmid shared that the Wednesday prep time is highly valuable to the staff at the school district, as well as the importance of staying consistent.
“My gut instinct is to just finish out the year (with Wednesday’s remaining virtual). This may seem like a small change but it’s a really big one for the littles. I don’t want to be the bad guy and make it seem like I don’t want them in school but I don’t know what it’s worth to upset the apple cart at this point in the year.”
“We are not extending any learning opportunity,” Trumm said. “And we’ve lost so much time that these kids are never, never going to catch up!”
“These kids are making tremendous growth under the circumstances,” Schmid rebutted. “It is not fair to say they are never going to catch up. I just don’t see the difference that four days is going to make at this point in the year and if it’s worth upsetting everything.”
“So the needs of a few outweigh the benefits of the many?” Trumm questioned.
“The needs of many are met on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and the needs of a few are met on Wednesdays,” Schmid said.
Schmid continued to emphasize that the change in routine for the elementary students could be very stressful, in addition to the stress put on the administration with loss of prep time.
Other teachers, community members and parents also chimed in on the topic.
“From what we have witnessed the virtual Wednesday expectation from the district board has fallen short. My grade schooler has one session on Wednesday mornings and it’s less than 15 minutes in length most weeks. We urge the board to commence five day school days ASAP,” wrote Angie O’Brien.
“As a special education teacher, Wednesdays have been the most beneficial in order to run our program. We are able to collaborate with multiple regular education classrooms to differentiate our instruction and co-plan. We are able to have IEP (Individual ized Education Program) and eval meetings without needing subs and we are able to bring students in for testing on Wednesdays. As far as meeting IEP minutes, some of us have increased our minutes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to meet some of the loss on Wednesday. Without Wednesday, we will lose this essential collaboration time,” wrote Gerryanne Bohn.
“Coming from a regular education teacher (who is also a co-teacher) virtual Wednesdays are still important. I am able to meet with my co-teacher and make plans and differentiate together. I can easily attend IEP meetings without having to leave my classroom for an hour. I can also meet one-on-one with my full time virtual student to assist her with any needs she may have (without in-person interruption.)” wrote Amanda King.
“As a parent with a virtual student, we are drowning,”wrote Nicole Mullikin.
“As a parent with an IEP student, we are drowning,” echoed Lacy Hammell.
“We need to have all Administrators that want students back in school normal,” wrote Cherryl Knowles.
“No disrespect, but we as parents have had to make it work for a year. We are only asking for a month of Wednesdays....” wrote Ashley Randall.
After some brief discussion, Miller initially made a motion that if the administration can find a way to make it work, the district could go back to full five day in-person learning.
Schmid commented “But now it’s on us, and if we can’t figure out a way to make it work, we’re the bad guys. You need to tell us what we’re supposed to do.”
With no second to his motion, Stitzer made a new motion to go to in-person, five day learning with an early release at 1:15 p.m. starting next week.
Schmid noted to the board that the district is already short on available substitute teachers and that there will be loss of learning for Title One kids due to the need for subs for IEPs.The motion passed five to two.