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School district questions COVID rules
Seneca School District

SENECA - Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID continues to be an issue in Seneca Schools.

The subject was given 45 minutes of public comment at the start of the regularly scheduled Seneca School Board meeting on Monday night.

The meeting began with some opening remarks from school board president Mark Johnson. He told the crowd of several dozen spectators that the public comment portion of the meeting was expanded to 45 minutes to accommodate those who wanted to speak on the mask issue. He noted a special board meeting about the subject as requested is planned.

Johnson asked those present to respect the rights of others wishing to speak by refraining from interrupting them. The board president also told those present that it was school district policy at this time to wear masks at the meeting. 

The board president told those assembled that if people present at the meeting refused to wear masks, they would be asked to leave and if they did not leave, the public comment period would not occur.

Johnson did ask a person in the back of the room to put on a mask or leave. Two others without masks were directed to a stockpile of masks at the door and put them on.

Some of those who found their masks at the door started the public discussion. 

Wade Varo asked to see statistics or facts on how masks slowed or stopped the spread of the disease, He noted that everyone present was wearing a different kind of mask.

“If the masks worked so well, why aren’t we all wearing the same type of masks,” he asked.

Like Varo, Jeanie Aspenson asked the board to show studies that wearing masks helped to slow the transmission of COVID.

A local woman employed at the North Crawford School District said that the staff there agreed that working under the mask policy and health protocols last year had led to the healthiest winter on record.

A woman, who spoke previously opposing a policy requiring masks, said she would bring studies to the special meeting proving wearing masks was not effective.

School board member Rachael George asked the woman, if she could see the studies prior to that meeting. The woman replied she could with a request that George allow her to see studies that she would be bringing to the special meeting.

The scheduling of the special meeting to review the district’s COVID policies was a major topic of the public comment session.  

In answer to questions from the crowd, school board president Mark Johnson and other board members said a date for the requested special board meeting had not yet been set.

However, Johnson cited the upcoming meeting as a reason for limiting public input to 45 minutes at this meeting. The only topic of the special meeting is to be addressing concerns over the school’s current COVID and mask policies.

Several members of the crowd pressed the board for a date. Some were hoping to have the meeting next week.

Seneca District Administrator Dave Boland, Johnson, and other board members explained they were interested in having another survey on the COVID policy issue, like the one done earlier this year that got a rather limited response. It is anticipated under the current situation interest in the survey will be greater than the previous survey.

Information about the survey and link to it will be posted on the school website

Boland told the Independent-Scout after the meeting. Parents, as well as other community members, are encouraged to fill out the survey.

Whether parents or members of the community as well can do the survey became an issue at the meeting. Many thought it was more appropriate to have the whole community weigh in on the topic than just parents.

A parent of students, who wear masks, explained there was peer pressure on the children to not wear the masks.

Discussions of the volleyball team and coaches wearing masks at away events, where the hosts and other teams are not wearing masks was also discussed.

School board member Rachael George said she was confused by the discussion of the school policies. George said the district had a plan that had masking as optional to start the year. When cases occurred that indicated masks should be used, according to the plan, they were.

“Right now, the masks come off on October 11,” George said.

Of course, if cases start to occur at certain levels then wearing masks will be re-instated.

There was a discussion of the effect of COVID and masks on sports. 

After the public comment session ended, board member Tyler Aspenson indicated he had a comment to make.

Aspenson said he waited until the public session ended to not take any time away from those seeking to make a comment.

“This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” Aspenson said of his board service during the COVID pandemic. “People treat me like dog shit.

“There are certain people in the community, who I am not proud to represent,” he said. 

Aspenson explained he is not a fan of masks and believes the COVID situation should be addressed with cleanliness and more disinfectants used.

“You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth, it is not fun to set forth from the house right now,” Aspenson said. “It’s difficult to be on the board.”

After approving the minutes and hearing a report on the finances, the board took up new business. 

The first item on the agenda was the process of filling two vacancies on the school board. One vacancy was occasioned by the recent death of long-serving board member Larry Kelley.

Another vacancy was created by the resignation of Chad Sime. Both board member terms are up for election in April.

Anyone interested in serving on the board to fill out those terms was encouraged to contact the board president Mark Johnson or board secretary Rachael George to indicate their interest in serving. All those interested in serving will be interviewed at the regularly scheduled October 18 board meeting. After interviews in the pubic portion of the meeting, the board will  make the selection in closed session.

Those interested in serving on the board to fill out the vacant terms are encouraged to email Johnson or George or drop off a note stating their intentions at the school office.

In other business, the Seneca School Board:

• learned the proposed property tax for the 2021-22 preliminary budget dropped four percent from $1,448,266 to $1,383,801 and the mil rate dropped from 8.38 in 2020-21 to a proposed 8.06 in 2021-22

• approved an across the board raise for all staff of 1.23 percent based on the current Consumer Price Index, noting a larger raise will probably occur next year based on an increase in the CPI

• approved higher pay levels for extracurricular workers-score board operators were raised to $40 from $27.50; crowd supervisors were raised to $40 from $25: scorebook keepers were raised to $40 from $27.50; ticket takers were raised to $35 from $25; volleyball line judges were raised to $30 from $25

• learned enrollment in the district was up to 252 from 230 last year

• selected long serving school board member the late Larry Kelley and Crawford County Public Health Director Cindy Riniker, who resigned from the position recently, to receive the Seneca Area School District Monthly Recognition for their service to the district

Following  a closed session executive meeting, the board reconvened in open session and:

• hired Brigid Reimann as the agriculture instructor

• granted two unpaid leaves to staff members

• hired Liz Garfoot as an assistanr volleyball coach for the freshman team

• accepted the resignation of board member Chad Sime