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School board votes to drop rotation and bring grades 6-12 back to school
Seneca School District
Seneca School District

SENECA - The Seneca Area School District will resume offering every day, in-school instruction for students in grades six through 12 beginning on Monday, March 29, the first day of fourth quarter.

Under a plan adopted in response to the COVID pandemic, elementary students, Pre-K through fifth grade, attend school every day. However, most middle school and high school students are in a  four-day rotation. The students attend class three out of four days in person and one day of the four virtually-accessing the class online. 

At the school board meeting on Monday, Seneca School Superintendent Dave Boland noted that a number of middle school and high school students are already attending school every day because of inadequate internet connections or their inability to learn in a virtual setting.

There are also 14 students, who are currently all virtual in grades six through 12. The all-virtual students will probably continue with that method of study through the end of the school year.

Having middle and high school students convert from their rotational schedule to full-time attendance will add about 20 students into the building daily, Boland told the board. 

The problems with having the extra students in the building will occur in classes for grades eight, nine and 10, which have lots of students, according to Boland. It may be necessary to use space in a computer lab for some in-school virtual learning in a few courses because of space concerns.

Lunch might also pose some problems. With masks off to eat, it means there will be a need for more space to maintain social distancing of six feet.

Boland emphasized if the older students are brought back for full-time daily instruction, they will continue to wear masks and/or maintain six-feet distances. This isalready the case in the rotational scheduling, when they are at the school.

Another part of the plan that might see changes involves taking students temperatures as they enter school. Boland told the board that since the start of school the staff have monitored temperatures of students about 25,000 times. The process rarely, if ever, identified students with fevers.

Boland noted that whatever the decision for continuing or discontinuing the temperature monitoring process for students entering the building, it will have to be continued as a practice for athletics, where it is mandated.

However, the school district administrator, who personally is among staff monitoring temperatures, noted there were other things to consider about the program.

“For every kid that gets their temperature taken, there’s someone saying, ‘how are you doing?’ And, that’s worth something,” Boland said.

The administrator also explained that since parents know the district is checking students temperatures, they will check the temperatures at home before sending the students to school.

Nevertheless, the district is not finding high temperatures among students it is monitoring.

On the temperature monitoring point, veteran school bus driver Mike Dearth, who was attending the meeting, offered a suggestion. He said why not continue taking the temperatures after the spring break when the COVID infection rate might jump.

Boland also discussed the district’s quarantine policy, which requires students and staff traveling out of state to quarantine for a number of days before rejoining the school population.

A parent attending the meeting took exception with the policy and described the problem it caused in her family, when she and her children visited her husband who was working out of state. She noted the irony of the fact that they could go to water parks in the Wisconsin Dells, crowded with people not wearing masks or social distancing, and not be required to quarantine.

Boland told the board that the only school he knew of enforcing a similar travel quarantine policy to Seneca’s policy was Ithaca.

The district administrator also discussed the results of a survey of 28 Seneca School staff members.

On the question of having all middle school and high school students return to every day instruction, 24 of the staff agreed or strongly agreed with the idea. Four fell in the middle and neither agreed or disagreed.

On temperature monitoring, 25 of the 28 strongly or very strongly thought it should be dropped.

On continuing the travel quarantine, 15 felt it should be ended, eight were in the middle neither agreeing or disagreeing, three strongly disagreed with dropping the travel quarantine and two others simply disagreed.

Board member Chad Sime said he was inclined to have the middle and high school  students return for every day instruction based on “the teachers’ support of bringing them back.”

Office staffer Ashley Roberts, also attending the meeting,  said she was not against moving forward and adjusting the quarantines.

Seneca School Board President Mark Johnson indicated he favored bringing the middle and high school students back for full-time, in-person instruction in the approaching fourth quarter. He also indicated he favored stopping the travel quarantine and the temperature checks.

Although the board did not vote to return the older students to full-time in person instruction or end the quarantine and temperature checks, when asked if there were any objections to these changes no board member voiced any objection. So, it was decided that the changes would go into effect on Monday, March 29, the first day of the fourth quarter.

Another lengthy discussion of school athletic policies ensued.

Tickets for games are currently limited to keep crowd sizes down and allow for social distancing. Seneca’s policy is four tickets per participant for home games and two tickets per participant for the visitors. However, Boland noted that other schools with larger gyms are giving four tickets to the home team per participant and four tickets per participant to the visiting team.

In answer to a question, the administrator explained the policy meant that high school volleyball matches at Seneca had crowds of about 200 and middle school basketball and volleyball had crowds of about 150 to 160.

Boland emphasized that the ticket policy involved working with other schools and the Ridge and Valley Conference, as well as the Scenic Bluffs Conference .

Boland said the football protocol will be that players on the sideline will wear masks anytime they are not wearing their helmets. Officials from River Ridge said the policy worked well for them in the fall season, according to Boland. 

This policy means that players wear masks in the building, on the bus and on the sidelines, when they were not wearing a helmet.

Baseball and softball are meeting this week and the proposed policy is that outside on the field, players are unmasked and social distanced. However, in the dugout and on the bus, players would wear masks.

There will also be efforts to keep fans out of certain seating areas with close proximity to dugouts.

Track meets will be limited to eight schools this season. This may cause problems with finding enough qualified officials, when more meets are created to replace the former mega-meets.

One parent voiced a concern about her son’s ability to play football this season, and possibly baseball, because asthma did not allow him to wear a mask.

After some discussion, Boland indicated that a clear face shield may be the solution and promised to look into the possibility for the parent.

Another parent attending the meeting wanted to discuss board meeting protocols and procedures that she felt were not being followed.

A major issue was reporting of voting in the meeting minutes. The parent said that state law required roll call votes be reported by indicating how each member voted. 

In response, the district administrator and board president explained that unanimous votes indicated every board member voted the same way on the motion. When votes were recorded 6-1 and the member voting against the majority was listed, it meant the other side included the other board members, even though each was not individually named.

The parent also thought the minutes should include more of the discussion of what led up to a vote.

A review of the district’s transportation  contract led to a decision to switch from Stratton buses to Southwest Transportation buses. Both companies had bid on the contract and although their bids were not ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons, they were similar.

In a lengthy discussion, board members focused on several factors including Stratton’s distance from the district, which is an hour-and-a-half away versus Southwest, which is a half-hour away.

Several members said Stratton had done a good job over 18 years of service to the district. The company was sold by the owner, Bud Stratton, three years ago to Landmark, a larger company based in the eastern part of the state.

Southwest was given high marks by a parent at the meeting, who had been an employee of the company in the past.

A Seneca bus driver Mike Dearth noted the Southwest drivers he met at extracurricular events seemed very satisfied with the equipment and with working for the company.

Boland said both the Prairie du Chien and DeSoto districts spoke very highly of Southwest, which provided them with buses.

Board member Chad Sime made a motion to sign a contract with Southwest to provide buses for the 2021-2024 transportation contract. The motion was seconded by Tyler Aspenson and passed by the board unanimously.

The final item of new business of the school board meeting agenda was the school calendars.

Seneca District Administrator recommended the board adopt essentially the same calendar that was put together for the 2020-21 schoolyear, but was changed due to COVID considerations.

However, Boland also told the board that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction was indicating it would be extremely lenient and receptive in considering waivers seeking early start dates. The DPI explained that restarting school early might help with re-acclimation of students and staff to the learning environment that may have been disrupted by COVID restrictions.

It was decided that a board decision on the school calendar would wait until the district administrator got a decision from DPI on a waiver for an early start.

The district administrator noted that with football and volleyball season underway in August, it would be good to have school in session.

The board agreed that the Seneca Area School District Monthly Recognition Award should be given to Ashley Roberts, for her efforts in contact tracing and event re-scheduling during the COCID pandemic; and to the school district food service staff for their extra effort in preparing food for teams traveling to away games.

Following closed session, the board reconvened in open session and voted to approve changes to the administrative bookkeeper position that increased the responsibilities and compensation for bookkeeper Sarah Sime.

The board also approved a leave of absence request for an employee to take trip.

In other business, the Seneca Area School District Board:

• learned the school’s ag structures class will replace the roof on the concession stand at the football field

• learned the most recently passed federal COVID Aid package will give the district $540,000-the DPI said it’s the most federal money ever seen with the most flexibility allowed in using it

• learned Wellness Day will be held April 21 and class will rotate in cohorts to stations avoiding the large crowd in the gym

• learned the Battle of Book will be held virtually online this year

• learned the free lunch waivers will be extended from June 30 to September 30

• learned the WIAA is requesting a stipend from member schools because the statewide athletic organization is running out of money without tournament incomes-Seneca’s stipend request will probably be $1,000

• approved a $100 membership in Equity of Funding, a group that advocates for fairness in funding of rural school districts