Mary Kuhn was re-elected to serve as president of the North Crawford School Board at their April 28 meeting. In a contested election, Tanya Forkash defeated Terry O’Donnell by one vote, 4-3, and will serve as vice president of the board. Terry O’Donnell will serve as treasurer, and Judy Powell as secretary.
After an executive closed session to start the meeting, the board quickly moved to accept staff resignations, approve the hire of new staff, approve the staff salary increase for 2021-22, approve district leadership contracts for 2021-22, and approve teaching contracts for 2021-22.
Staff resignations accepted included Kari Davidson - Student Services Assistant; Kathy Schwartz - retirement - sixth grade teacher; Scot Schellhorn - retirement – high school special education teacher; and Jean Ottaway - retirement - third grade teacher.
Internal staff transfers included Amy Anderson - from second grade to kindergarten; Sarah Haefer – from first to second grade; Joe Ellerbusch – from elementary special education to middle school math; Tanya Miller – from middle school special education to elementary special education; Jackie Pettit – from middle school educational assistant to interventionist support position; and Erin Konichek – from full time educational assistant to student service assistant (25 hours) and educational assistant (15 hours).
New staff hired include Cale Zuiker – middle school/high school principal; Katelyn Keegan – third grade teacher; Todd Kemp – sixth grade teacher; Emily Powell – middle school special education teacher; and Max Moderski - elementary school counselor.
A pay increase of 1.2 percent was approved for the teaching and support staff. District administrative and leadership contracts were approved for Brandon Munson, Cale Zuiker, Amanda Killeen and Dale Spencer.
Attorney advises board
District corporate counsel Eileen Brownlee addressed the board upon a variety of legal issues board members should be aware of.
“COVID-19 has raised a host of issues for school districts,” Brownlee said. “We are hopefully coming out of the pandemic, but it won’t necessarily be a quick return to normal.”
Brownlee told the board that the pandemic offers the board the opportunity to look more broadly at other issues, especially at accommodations for the disabled.
“There are still health orders and protocols from the CDC, and the state, counties and municipalities that are in effect,” Brownlee said. “Although there has been a massive amount of litigation, the decisions in the courts apply only to the Governor and the Department of Health Services, and don’t affect any orders created at other levels of government.”
Brownlee led the board through a ‘true or false’ exercise to test their understanding of some of the issues.
Question: if there is no statewide mask mandate, can employers still require employees to wear a mask at work?
Question: if there is not statewide mask mandate, can school districts still require students to wear masks at school?
Answer: yes, with two exceptions – in the event of a disability or condition which prevents them from wearing a mask, or as an accommodation to a sincerely held religious belief.
Question: can employers require employees to be vaccinated?
Answer: yes and no. The reason that the answer would be no is because the current vaccines are only approved with an emergency use authorization. Brownlee said that employers shouldn’t, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t. Eventually, she told the board, it will be advisable.
Question: can school districts require social distancing?
Question: can school districts ban visitors from their building?
Answer: absolutely, except in the case of an emergency, or to satisfy open meetings law – if visitors are banned, then some other means for the public to participate in the meeting must be provided.
Question: can school districts require students to be vaccinated?
Answer: yes, when vaccines become available to younger students. Eventually the same rules will apply to COVID-19 vaccines as apply to other vaccines required to attend school.
Brownlee also told the board that she was “amazed at how creatively school districts had coped with COVID.” She was particularly impressed at how flexible so many districts had found ways to be with employees. She cautioned the board that transitioning back to “normal” could be a process.
“You will need to treat every employee’s request for accommodations on a case-by-case basis, with an individual, objective analysis,” Brownlee said. “Currently, there is no legal impediment to requiring in-person instruction, but it may come to be that the interpretation of ‘disability’ will come to be more liberal.”
As far as student disabilities, Brownlee said the district will need to comply with special education laws. She observed that it had been pretty hard during the last year to enforce mandatory attendance, but that things will go back to the old way once we get beyond the pandemic. She advised the district to begin educating students about this.
As far as students with spotty attendance over the last year, who may not qualify to advance to the next grade level, Brownlee emphasized that the school district determines the placement of children.
In other business
In other business, the board:
• approved a request by Liz Bransky to begin planning a cross country trip, with the proviso that plans would be re-evaluated closer to the time
• approved a donation to the Gays Mills Swimming Pool of $750
• approved renewal of the CESA-3 health insurance cooperative as the staff health insurance provider• approved the 2021-22 CESA-3 services contract for a total $24,169 – a savings of $6,000 over the 2020-21 amount.