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School Board alters COVID policy
North Crawford
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - The North Crawford School Board met for its regular monthly meeting a week later than usual after last week's rescheduled meeting due to the windstorm. The meeting lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours and included an early closed session to start the meeting

With lots to talk about during the long meeting, perhaps the two most dramatic changes that came included a rehaul of the masking matrix and COVID protocols and the addition of a new board member to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of board member Tanya Forkash. 

School nurse John Powell presented the current information regarding COVID within the district to the board. He noted that the last half of November and into December his work has primarily been dominated by COVID-related situations. Powell explained that he is working on getting an idea of how many students within the district are fully vaccinated, but the current guess is approximately 25 percent, which is considered low compared to other districts. 

         Powell added that there has been some interest expressed in holding another vaccination clinic at the school. However, it is unclear if that would be happening in the near future. Rather, he noted, that he is helping families find resources to become vaccinated at other locations like local pharmacies, the health department and clinics. 

The school began implementing the “Test to Stay” program on November 19 and noted success with it. With this program, students who are close contact cases test each day during a set time period to determine if they have become positive or can continue attending school. Through this effort over the last month asymptomatic and mild cases have been identified. Approximately 76 tests had been administered over this one-month period for the “Test to Stay” program. Currently, there are four active cases bringing the total to 72 for the school year, including recovered cases, according to Powell. 

“The school is seeing more of a down trend, the county is seeing more of a down trend, but the state numbers continue to be marching their way up,” Powell noted. Adding that they have not seen transmission within the school since the board meeting in November. 

Following Powell’s report, district administrator Brandon Munson opened the conversation regarding the district health and safety protocols for COVID. He noted that it was requested by a board member to have this issue readdressed. In a PowerPoint presentation, he gave some of the reasons why the discussion is being held, including the recent vaccination of ages five to 11, continuing to see spread in the community, the ability to implement “Test to Stay,” how individuals will live and function with the ‘new normal’, continuing to see the highest levels of positives in the districts and low student vaccination rate,” 

“COVID is a fabric of our lives now,” Munson said. 

The administrator reviewed the current levels of the masking matrix which included universal masking, masking recommended in high risk areas, and masks optional. This was dictated within district boundaries with three or more positives in the district, shifting the district to masks in high risk areas and two or more cases within a seven-day period, shifting the district into masks required, which is the area of the matrix the school has been in for several months. 

Due to the request for this to be included in the meeting, a revised version of the matrix was created by the administration team and school nurse John Powell. 

The modified matrix would eliminate the portion of the previous matrix that only called for masking in high risk areas, lowering the mask duration to 14 days from 28 days. Additionally, the schools would be divided into individual entities. 

With this separation of the schools when it comes to masking policy, the numbers would also be different for when masks would be optional or required. In the new matrix, if three percent or higher of the individual wing of the school reported COVID positives, then the masks would no longer be optional. 

The current population in the elementary is 247, including students and staff. With the new presented matrix this would require there being eight positive cases in the elementary alone for masks to become required. In the middle school the population is 126 which means there will need to be four or more cases for masks to become required. In the high school the population is 182 which means they would need to have six or more cases to implement the mask requirement. 

It was also requested by Munson that administration retain some flexibility within this matrix. Using the example that if there was an outbreak in one of the elementary grades, of six students, the administration would have the ability to implement masking in just that grade level, even though it didn’t set off enough cases to mask in the entire elementary. 

In the situations where school wide events would be held, the district would identify the type of event and the event would follow the mandate of the particular branch of school it was in. For district wide events however, if any level of the district was in a fully masked time, the entire event would require masking. 

It was noted however, during the explanation of the new proposed matrix that social distancing of six feet would not be able to be accomplished 100 percent of the time throughout the school. With only portions of classrooms being able to properly socially distance and the lunch room for the middle and high schools being at max capacity already during the three-foot social distancing that comes with the mask requirements. Munson noted after the meeting that they would remind the teachers to help prompt the children the best they can to maintain what distance is feasible. It was also noted however during the meeting that with this new matrix, when there are masks optional and lacking six-feet social distancing, cases of quarantine will likely increase. 

Board member Judy Powell questioned the motives behind the change and opened up conversation between board members. . 

“Who is the we that wants this?” Powell questioned of the renewed matrix proposal. “Hasn't this (masking) been working?” 

“This is not any kind of safety measure for students or staff,” also noted board member Jim Dworshack. “I can’t believe we’re spending this much time on this topic.” 

“We did this because parent’s needed to vaccinate their kids,” board president Mary Kuhn said of the masking matrix. “We’ve been struggling with this for a long time, but at what point do we make parents do what we feel is best?” 

“The function of the school board is to ensure the safety of the school,” Dworshack responded. 

“What is the magic number?” questioned Powell. It (masking) seems to be working in our district, we haven’t had to shut down, why would we be taking away layers of protection? It doesn’t matter what other districts are doing, why shouldn’t we be leaders in a movement toward safer learning. We do xyz to stay healthy for the rest of our lives. Masks are working, in my eyes it's liking to taking away safety belt laws. We need to be a part of the solution.” 

Board member Jesse Swenson brought up many mental health concerns that she feels correlates to masks. Citing that students “need to see people smiling and each other's faces,” and that taking that away could cause severe and lasting mental health issues in children. 

“What’s the end to this?” Swenson questioned. “In ‘19 we had kids dropping like flies from illnesses and we didn't change anything. Why make all of these changes now?” 

“In this case, we think there are 25 percent vaccinated in the district vaccinated. That's about one third of where we need to be to where it doesn't completely roll through our population (within the district),” Dworshack said. “To be responsible to students and staff we need to mandate what we can.” 

Swenson questioned if people who have already had positive COVID results are being counted within the 25 percent, to which Powell responded that they were not. It was also noted that to Powell’s knowledge there have been no cases of reinfection. 

“I just feel like we’re beating our heads against the wall,” Kuhn said. “We’ve done this (masking)  and the numbers are still going up. If the majority is still coming from community spread are we still doing better? My point is, we are exposed to it everywhere.”

Munson added that during the creation of this matrix neither staff nor families were asked for input on the changes. 

“It doesn’t matter,” Kuhn said. “Because if the numbers keep going up, we’ll be masked anyway.” 

After some more brief discussion, Swenson made the motion as presented, with less contract tracing. This motion was seconded by board member Ed Heisz. 

The conversation continued however, for some time with more discussions being had about the lunch room being at max capacity and the problems that are presented with social distancing. 

“If you are not making changes to the matrix with your motion you would be making it with the addition that you are acknowledging that social distancing will be difficult or impossible,” Munson noted. 

“We need to get these masks off kids and they need to see faces,” Swenson said once again. 

“We haven’t been able to be mask free with the matrix we had,” Powell pointed out once more, sounding frustrated. “Why make these changes?” 

“We’ve lost kids from what we’ve done,” retorted Swenson, speaking of parents who have pulled their children from in person learning due to the masking matrix. 

“We’ve lost staff as well who backed out because of the lack of masking,” Powell said. 

Swenson once again presented the motion to pass the matrix, as presented, with Heisz seconding. 

The change to the matrix passed by roll call vote. With Powell voting a swift no, Swenson yes, Dworshack no, O'Donnell Yes, and Heisz Yes. Board president Kuhn visibly struggled with her vote, taking several moments with her head down rubbing her temples before she cast a yes vote in favor of the change. Audible sighs were heard following the passing of the modified matrix at four to two. The new matrix will be implemented beginning January 19, 2022. 

During the final portion of the meeting, Jerry Coleman was voted in by the board to fill the vacancy left by Forkash. Others present and vying for the seat included Seamus Murry, Harrison Heilman, and Charissa Richter. 

North Crawford Elementary School Principal, Amanda Killeen reported that the kindergarten growth was measured by Fastbridge. 

“We are at over 70 percent of students performing at grade level,” Killeen reported. “Our dedicated staff has been able to utilize our CKLA curriculum and science of reading training to set the path for a strong foundation.” Killeen offered praise to the kindergarten teachers, education assistants and RTI team. 

It was also noted in Kileen’s report that Elementary Guidance Counselor Max Moderski has been working on having students do a daily virtual check in on how they are doing emotionally. 

“He gets alerts from students who are having a difficult time so that he can reach out to them,” Killeen reported. “It provides students with another avenue to seek support if needed.” 

A survey that was sent to families yielded a return from 46 families total, Killeen also noted. Some of the questions included “would you like to see the district explore the options of expanding our elementary offerings. 54.3 percent of respondents said yes and 41.3 percent responded with maybe. 71 percent of respondents thought students should be experiencing more “Authentic Learning (real-world) and 76 percent of respondents felt strongly for learning outside of the classroom.  For the question of “if you were to choose a new school for your child what would you be looking for” overwhelmingly respondents chose “Students happy to go to school” 

64 percent of respondents also felt that offering four or five day a week full day 4K would be a benefit to our students and community. It was additionally noted that this structure would include significant opportunities for play. 

North Crawford Middle and High School Principal Cale Zuiker gave his monthly report to the board. 

“I want to highlight a group of teachers that are really challenging their current mindsets and practices aligned with student grading,” Zuiker reported. “Jessica Wick, Karen Brandl, Joey Ferrito and Eileen Roben have been a part of a research group that is examining our current grading practices with the information they are learning through Rick Wormeli.” 

Zuiker described Wormeli as a huge player in the education world with close to 40 years of experience, adding that he “consults with educators around the world to help widen their knowledge of current grading system flaws and the steps to take to begin a more ethical grading system.”  Some of the conversations that were had around the topic were centered around the statements “Homework should enable students to practice what they have already learned and should not present new content for the first time”, “Students learn at different rates,” “We teach for subject mastery, not short-term memory,” “We teach in ways students learn best, not the way we learn best.” 

During the closed session the board accepted the resignation of long time North Crawford IT Staff Donna Starkey. The District approved filling the position with a contracted service through Compunet for a total of $85,800 a year, which will be prorated for the remainder of this school year. 

Food Service Director Jennifer Kapinus shared the ongoing struggles with food shortages and the department's ways to make meals continue to work for the district. 

“The food shortages continue to worsen, and it doesn’t look like this is going to improve anytime soon,” shared Kapinus in her report.  She added that she utilizes a sub and does shopping in stores to help find what they need in the cafeteria. “Although, I don’t think this will be a long term solution, as I struggle to find the things we need in stores, and it is incredibly time consuming.” 

Some positives that Kapinus shared were more local items being purchased from places like Johnson's One Stop, The MarketPlace, local family farms, and Klondike Cheese out of Monroe and Fifth Season of Viroqua will both be added into the mix. 

“Many of our scratch made recipes are going over well,” Kapinus said. “We have been trying out several varieties of homemade soups, such as tomato basil with roasted garlic, cheesy potato and ham, taco soup and cheeseburger chowder. Our garden bar also continues to be a hit with both students and staff. We are excited to see so many students enjoying fresh produce.