NORTH CRAWFORD - It wasn’t surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic was a dominant theme at the North Crawford School Board’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 9. With the sustained surge in cases in the county, and statewide, educators are faced with many difficult decisions.
Superintendent Brandon Munson addressed the topic in his administrative report at the top of the agenda.
“We received a recommendation from Crawford County Public Health on Friday that all school districts in the county move their middle school and high school students to a full virtual instructional model for two weeks,” Munson said. “In a Zoom meeting with the other three districts in the county, it became apparent that none of the districts want to modify their current instructional model.”
Munson said that Wauzeka-Steuben currently has students in the building five days per week for in-person instruction; while both Seneca and Prairie du Chien are working with hybrid in-person/virtual models similar to North Crawford’s.
“I certainly understand the county’s stance given the number of cases we’re seeing right now,” Munson said. “Nevertheless, my recommendation is to keep going with our current model.”
Munson told the board that as this was late breaking news on Friday, consideration of this topic was not able to be placed on the board’s agenda. He said that if the board wanted to take it up, they would need to schedule a special meeting for that purpose. No board member stepped forward to request such a meeting, and so the district will continue with its current instructional model.
Munson reported to the board that, as with fall sports, the county is recommending that all districts in the county decline to participate in winter athletics.
“When I met with all of the other schools in the district, the universal sentiment was for going forward with winter athletics,” Munson said. “We all did a good job with fall athletics, not a single one of our athletes contracted COVID, and I believe that participation is crucial for student mental health and motivation to succeed academically.”
Munson said that the district is proposing to follow all guidelines put forward by WIAA for winter athletics, and that all the other districts in the conference have agreed to do the same. In addition, all athletes will be required to wear facemasks at all times, both in practice and in competition.
“There is currently no data available that suggests that wearing facemasks while exercising is unhealthy for students,” Munson said. “We have trialed this with students and staff in our open gym, everyone is comfortable moving forward with wearing masks if that is what they have to do to be able to play. Parents and students always have the right to choose not to participate if they don’t feel safe.”
The current plan for wrestling is to participate in six or seven dual meets, and no tournaments. At practice, they will wrestle with only one partner.
Boys basketball will play 18 games – 14 conference and four non-conference. The boys will begin practice on Monday, Nov. 23.
Girls basketball will have a similar schedule, but practice will begin on Monday, Nov. 16.
As far as spectators, Munson recommended allowing spectators in line with county health recommendations for capacity limits. He said that the county operates two weeks at a time, and so whenever the county updates their metrics and recommendations, capacity limits for spectators will be re-evaluated. He said that all other schools in the conference have agreed to this as well, and that to the extent spectators had been allowed for fall athletics, it had gone very well.
After Munson completed his overview of the district’s recommendations for winter athletics, the floor was opened for discussion. First, school board members were allowed to comment, and then coaches and members of the public were given a turn.
“I am all for participating in winter athletics,” Judy Powell said. “However, I don’t know about allowing spectators given the evidence that the public at large are not following the public health guidelines. The kids are following the rules.”
Munson responded that spectators had worked well to the extent they were allowed in the fall. He clarified for Powell that county health or district guidelines will always trump conference guidelines.
“I agree with everything that’s been said, and can clearly see the strong benefits of participating in winter athletics,” Jim Dworschack said. “However, I have to ask what kind of example the district is providing when we choose to ignore the county’s recommendation.”
Munson appreciated the point Dworschack made, but pointed out that the district had already gone against the county’s recommendation for fall athletics.
“I’m sure no one is surprised to hear that I am in favor of participating in winter athletics,” Ed Heisz said. “I have a couple of questions about wrestling though – how are masks really going to work, and why are there only six games scheduled?”
Athletic Director Tina Volden explained that WIAA guidelines require that the wrestlers only compete every six days. She said that the guidelines would allow the team to have two more non-conference competitions, but that she has had difficulty finding any schools to schedule those with.
Wrestling coach Adam Hady reported that he had discussed the face coverings issue with Tina Volden, and is going to “see if it works in practice.”
Coach Wettstein, who coaches boys basketball, reported that the masks had proved to be very workable in open gym. “The kids have gotten used to it, and they just want to play.” Coach DiPadova from the girls team echoed Wettstein’s remarks.
The board voted by roll call vote to move forward with winter athletics as proposed by the district. The vote in favor was 5-1, with Jim Dworschack voting no.
In other business
In other business, the board:
• recognized senior Helen Carstens as the first North Crawford cross country athlete to compete at state in all four years of high school
• heard from North Crawford Elementary Principal Amanda Killeen that the district had been featured in an article about their success with a hybrid instructional model
• approved the final reading of school board policy revisions
• approved the voluntary reduction in hours of Elementary Guidance Counselor Zoe Ellerbusch’s position from full time to half time, with the decision to be reexamined in the spring• approved posting for a half time Elementary Guidance Counselor work-share position