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No more COVID protocols at the school
In Boscobel
Boscobel School District

BOSCOBEL - Call it one more step into a post-pandemic reality: Students and staff in the Boscobel district may now treat a coronavirus infection the same as any other.

So voted the school board at its June 12 monthly meeting.

Under the new rules, anyone with COVID-19 would follow the district’s general illness protocols, meaning they could return to school after 24 hours of improving symptoms without an elevated temperature.

The vote came three years and three months after then-President Donald Trump ordered a national emergency and Governor Tony Evers ordered all Wisconsin schools closed. Both declarations came on March 13, 2020.

Nurse recommendations

The board acted on the request of school nurse Suzanne Brinkman, who noted that Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction had announced it would not issue guidance to schools regarding coronavirus infections.

Her recommendation was to no longer track COVID infections, to discontinue testing at school, but continue to offer free at-home tests, via Wisconsin’s Department of Health, to families and staff that request them.

Current guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease control recommend that people with COVID symptoms isolate for five days, whether they test positive or not. And the same goes for those without symptoms who test positive. Brinkman asked the board to create a policy with regard to these recommendations.

But who’s infected?

Board Vice President Wendi Stitzer, who serves as Director of Acute Care Nursing Gundersen Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinics, pointed out that testing is increasingly rare.

“Honestly at this point most of our positives are ‘incidental findings’ rather than someone coming in and being like ‘I think I have COVID,’” she told board members.

Brinkman noted in her request that the school already tacitly disregards isolation protocols for individuals who choose not to test for COVID.

Thus, with no reliable way to sort out who was ill with what type of infection, the isolation requirements would be arbitrarily enforced. Only those who identified themselves as infected with COVID would be mandated to isolate.

“I think it’s just simplest to go back to what we’ve always done,” said board member Casey Updike, who proposed a motion to that effect. The board voted unanimously in favor.

Final chapter?

The board discussion was brief and targeted, clocking in at 3 minutes, 22 seconds. In that, it contrasted with many COVID-related meetings of the past three years, some of which approached that many hours, as elected officials and school staff attempted to balance the needs of the schoolchildren against public health best practices, while parents coped with (or complained about) the chaos and confusion of life without school.

In November 2020, for instance, teachers and students were juggling as best they could with the ever-changing health protocols designed to keep them safe. At that point, nearly 200 students and staff were out of school either ill or on quarantine and the skeleton crew that remained in the building struggled to keep pace.

“We all want what’s best for the kids and we are finding it very hard to give them the best education we can,” teacher Karen Weber told the board at that time. “Nothing is consistent for them. Social distancing really isn’t a possibility. The classrooms are too small to follow the rules.”

Across the nation students, including Boscobel’s, suffered both emotionally and academically, as measured by mental health and school test scores during the pandemic. That recovery remains ongoing.

Other business

The short discussion of COVID left time for a wide-ranging meeting that stretched for several hours. Among other business discussed, the board discussed the following:

Money management

Under the terms of the referendum, the district will issue bonds worth TK million to pay for school consolidation and improvements. That’s money that, if managed wisely, can earn interest while the contractors do their jobs. Additionally, state and federal laws designate how and when that money can be spent. The board heard two presentations from firms that specialize in such matters, and agreed to hire one of them, American Deposit Management company to manage the cash.

Storage shed renovation

The board voted to spend $51,000 to renovate the existing garage/shed near the football field to accommodate the storage of sports maintenance equipment. An addition, an overhead door, and new siding and roof will result in significant savings, as the original proposal was to build a new shed for $250,000. The $51,000 is covered by higher-than-expected interest earnings in the school’s capital improvement fund.

Soccer team?

Karen Lomas presented information to the board about the Boscobel Soccer Club, as part of a discussion of adding soccer to the high school’s roster of competitive sports options. The club was launched in 2022, and has steadily gained traction, according to Lomas, and now boasts 76 participants—many of whom hope to play competitively when they graduate from the club.

Board members and staff expressed concern about spreading the student body too thin over too many sports and agreed that any competitive team would have to be formed cooperatively with neighboring schools. They agreed to direct District Administrator Lisa Wallin-Kapinus to explore the idea.

Business management

Since 2022, the district has contracted with Cooperative Educational Service Agency 5 Home (CESA 5), which provides accounting and other financial services to the school, with Jarrett Roethke assigned as the district’s business manager. The annual cost of the contract is $115,000.

Board president Todd Miller raised concerns about this relationship in the future, but other board members pointed out that, when you factor in benefits and taxes, the cost of the contract is small. Additionally, when Roethke is unavailable, other staff are on call to help. Roethke is currently engaged in a process of finding ways to save money for the district through being more efficient with spending.

Miscellaneous items

The board voted to:

• Provide bus service for the Sesquicentennial historic tours, free of charge.

• Maintain student fees at the same rate as last year, unless required to boost food service fees.

• Purchase the project-based high school math curriculum from Illustrative Math for a cost of $20,380.11.

• Purchase 18 smart panels, along with the hardware to run them, for a cost of $TK, and 100 Chromebooks for a price of $32,100.

The board also heard a report from coaching staff about the state qualifiers for this year’s track team, many of whom attended the board in person to receive congratulations for their efforts. Among them was Nora Jillson who as of this year is the new school record holder in the mile and the 800—breaking records that have held since 1980.