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School Board relaxes COVID rules
Seneca School District

SENECA - The Seneca School Board endured another long meeting Monday night on their way to passing a modified COVID plan and procedures.

About 15 or 16 people attended the board meeting to once again express their opinion about the school’s COVID policies. The group was mostly opposed to masks and mostly opposed to the available COVID vaccines, questioning their effectiveness.

The meeting began with board members discussing transitioning away from some of the policies put in place to control the pandemic. 

Seneca School Board President Mark Johnson noted that district administrator David Boland had prepared a summary of what other schools were doing with COVID policies.

The district administrator then explained some of the philosophy behind the summary.

As the district prepares to transition away from some of the precautions that are in place, Boland urged the board to carefully consider the actions.

“If and when we do change, it would be good if the changes are built into the plan we have,” Boland said. “Other districts have made drastic changes and then had trouble implementing them.”

One change schools are trying is keeping students, who have been in close contact with a known COVID case, in school rather than quarantined at home for 10 days. While in school, the students would mask and be monitored.

Boland said some schools are doing daily testing of students doing their quarantine at school. Others are testing quarantined students remaining in school, but not daily.

Boland urged the board to look at adjusting the thresholds the school has for taking action as case numbers increase.

“I’m afraid if we just say we’re not masking we could have a mess,” Boland said.

“We need some kind of line,” Boland said. “If there’s more than x-number of cases…”

Board member Shawn Lenzendorf noted that Prairie du Chien has gone to a mask optional procedure in the high school.

There was brief discussion of what River Ridge is trying, which is having close contacts mask for eight days and be monitored for symptoms, but remain in school.

Other schools are using a ‘test-to-stay’ procedure that involves daily testing.

Board member Tyler Aspenson moved to adopt a policy based on the River Ridge plan to have students who had close contacts with a positive COVID case quarantine in school. The quarantine would include wearing a mask for seven days and if the student tested negative for COVID after seven days ending the quarantine or doing 10 days of quarantine if the student decided to not test. During the quarantine, the school would monitor the student for COVID symptoms.

Aspenson’s motion was seconded by Shawn Lenzendorf and passed unanimously by the board on a roll call vote.

Boland noted that any changes made would not affect the extracurricular activities and the way close contacts must be  dealt with by all schools for athletics.

High school principal Alex Osterkamp noted that Prairie du Chien middle school is still masking and is even masked at athletic practices.

Others in the crowd pointed out that Wauzeka-Steuben and DeSoto were not masking.

There was a mention of Ithaca and Weston, but there seemed to be no clear knowledge of the situation at those schools.

One person in the crowd emphasized that COVID would not get better until the country reached herd immunity.

Boland noted that to date North Crawford had a system of daily testing for students in school who had known close contacts and it seemed to be working well. However, the daily testing might be a little redundant and testing every other day might be sufficient.

On another matter, it was noted that the federal mandate for masking on public transportation including school buses would stay in effect through January 22 and might be renewed.

Two board members, Tyler Aspenson and Brittany Joy discussed their personal experiences with COVID. Aspenson tested positive for COVID and isolated himself from his family as he quarantined, Joy discovered here children had COVID and kept them home to quarantine them until they could return to school.

For the record, the only board member wearing a mask at the meeting was board president Mark Johnson. Board member Rachael George did not attend the meeting.

At one point, board member Shawn Lenzendorf made it clear that testing in the school is only done with parents’ permission.

As more questions arose over testing without parents’ permission, school secretary Ashley Roberts made it clear that she has never tested a student without parents’ permission. There is an exception for 18-year-old students living outside the home, who are allowed to make the decision on testing for themselves.

Natural immunity from recovering from a COVID infection is determined to be 90 days.

Rosemary Hall, who has taken an active role in opposing mask mandates and questioning the effectiveness of vaccines, asked how many people had read material supporting her viewpoints on the pandemic. She presented the information to board members and others at the last meeting.

Several board members had different responses. Charles Clark told Hall he had not read the material. Board member Crisse Reynolds told Hall she reviewed the sources of the material and was familiar with some of them and what they had said on the subject. Seneca school board president Mark Johnson told Hall he had read some of the material, but not all of it.

At one point, in the meeting, Shawn Lenzendorf made a motion to increase the necessary amount of cases in either of the district’s two buildings from two cases to six cases to trigger masking to address an outbreak. The motion was seconded by Tyler Aspenson. The policy was passed on a 4-2 roll call vote. Voting in favor were Lenzendorf, Aspenson, Reynolds and Clark. Voting against were Johnson and Joy.

In other business, the Seneca Area School Board:

• approved spending $21,800, the low bid, to replace two metal doors, including the east door from the elementary school and the north gym doors-all old and damaged by rust

• a food cabinet was purchased for the food service to keep foods hot in the lunch line-a grant covered close to half the purchase price

• changed the qualifications for valedictorian selection to make the second-tie breaker the composite ACT test score, not the ‘super score’ that allows retesting in some subjects to get higher scores to replace lower scores

• appointments to school board standing committees, including placing Lenzendorf on transportation and buildings; and Reynolds on discipline and policies

• selected the SHARE program for delivering 207 holiday baskets to needy people in the community

• learned how a nationally distributed TikTok (social media) threat against schools was handled with the advice and assistance of law enforcement and mental health professionals-any concerned students were to be told the threat was not credible

After the closed session, the board reconvened in open session and accepted the resignation of Gary Horovitz, a part-time cleaner, and speech teacher Becky Ruff, who will stay until the end of the school year. The board also approved an unpaid leave of absence for a staff member.