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School district settles on ‘Royals’ as new mascot
Seneca School District

SENECA - “Royals it is!” a man yelled after the Seneca School Board approved the new mascot at their meeting Monday night.

Seneca once again has a mascot for its athletic teams and other activities-it’s the Royals.

After a review of the mascot selection process by Seneca School District Administrator Dave Boland, Tyler Aspenson made a motion and Charles Clark seconded it to make the Royals the new mascot. The board approved it unanimously.

Seneca started a long selection process in 2021 to find a new mascot to replace the ‘Indians’  due to cultural concerns around using Native American names as school mascots.

In explaining the selection process, Boland said two names rose to the top, with four others in positions below them.

In addition to Royals, the other popular mascot was the Storm. Going head-to-head among students, community members and alumni, the Royals was clearly favored on percentages ranging from 60 to 40 to 65 to 35 with slight variations among the different groups.

Boland told the board that schools often employ companies to develop images and promotional ideas around a newly adopted mascot.

It was suggested that alumni Ryan Meyers, who was well-known artist at the school, might be contacted to work on the project of developing images for the new mascot.

While everyone seemed rather pleased that the mascot selection had been completed, that’s not how the meeting started.

Masking, testing and other COVID concerns were the primary focus of most of the meeting. About 30 to 35 people attended the meeting and a significant number of them opposed the return to masking in the light of a recent surge in COVID infections.

However, the first concern addressed under the public input portion of  the meeting was not masking, but open windows. Several parents said that windows being opened to promote ventilation in attempts to stymie COVID transmission, were resulting in uncomfortably cold classrooms. Boland and several staff members acknowledged windows were opened, but disputed the idea that it created uncomfortably cold conditions.

Several parents took issue with the idea of open windows in January.

Students are able to wear additional clothing and, if they chose to, could bring blankets to school, Boland told the concerned parents.

After the public comment session ended, the first item on the agenda under new business was the current COVID policies.

Because of a surge in cases last week, the mask optional policy was changed to mandatory masking. 

Boland and school secretary Ashley Roberts explained that the number of cases had crossed a threshold set in the school’s matrix that called for masking.

Boland explained the nine cases in eight households pushed the district over the threshold previously established for masking.

Ashley Roberts confirmed there were five cases in the district on Wednesday, Jan. 12. 

One person questioned if cases were being removed from the list and the number lowered as students recovered. Roberts said the number was actually increasing with more cases being reported.

In answer to a question, Roberts said the current test used by the district is only to confirm the presence or lack of presence of COVID, it does not identify the specific variant of COVID.

Masking opponents, as they have at previous meetings, disputed the effectiveness of masking and insisted that wearing or not wearing masks was a decision that should be left to parents and not made by the district.

Byron Aspenson emphasized his opinion that masks were ineffective and said he would provide information from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) on the subject of mask’s effectiveness.

Later, in the meeting, he did read from a story that quoted OSHA findings talking about the types of masks and where and how they were effective.

Several other speakers emphasized that the school district was not responsible for taking actions to protect students’ well-being.

Sara Wall took issue with statements that she attributed to board member Charles Clark made at a previous meeting in which he said it was his responsibility as a board member to act to protect students.

Wall disagreed that it was the district’s right or responsibility to protect students.

“This is my right,” Wall said. “It’s our job as parents, our job as adults to make our decision...”

While Wall and others at the meeting were asking the district to stop testing for COVID and stop requiring masks, Boland and Roberts noted that there were parents requesting having their children tested.

Jamie Oppriecht said that since the decision to require masks was made based on the number of cases present, she is not sending her children to school. She said her two boys were at home trying to learn through virtual classes on the computer.

As more questions about COVID testing at the school were asked, school board president Mark Johnson reminded everyone that district does not test students without the permission of their parents. 

Of the approximately 30 or more people attending the meeting about 12 spoke, some more than once, against the district’s masking or testing policy or the open windows. 

Two staff members, who also have students in the school, defended the masking policies. One Jenny Fisher, a math teacher, asked earnestly why people couldn’t take an action, like wearing a mask to protect others.

About half the people in the audience did not speak. One of those, Adam Green, a candidate in the upcoming school board election, was asked if he wanted to speak by board president Mark Johnson.

Green declined to speak, noting most people already knew his opinion. 

However, another school board candidate, Eric Grimsled, spoke several times at the meeting. Eventually, he took issue with Boland and the board.

Grimsled noted that Boland often began speaking by saying, ‘from my perspective’ and provided guidance to the board followed.

Grimsled likened the board members to “a litter of puppies.”

Boland took issue with Grimsled’s remarks.

“You can hate my guts,” Boland said. “But you don’t have to insult these people….They’re not coming here to feel attacked.”

The district administrator also noted that spending 35 years in the schools had provided him with some experience  that was useful.

The comments on the open windows and cold conditions in public input and the discussion of the district’s return to masking lasted for almost two hours.

When the public comments ended, the board began a discussion on the school’s current COVID policies and possible actions going forward.

Board member Britney Joy made a motion to make mask wearing in the school optional under any conditions, and to adjust the quarantine conditions for students who are identified as having had a close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID.

Under Joy’s motion, students with close contacts would have to stay home for five days and upon their return would have to wear a mask for five days. Alternatively, any student who was a close contact could choose to stay home another five days, after the initial five days, and then return to school without having to wear a mask.

On a roll call vote, the motion was defeated 4-2 with Britney Joy and Tyler Aspenson voting yes and Mark Johnson, Charles Clark, Crisse Reynolds and Rachael George voting no. 

In other business, the Seneca School Board:

• learned the state will not have COVID tests available in the near future for school districts as had been the case 

• decided to get a bid and repair plan done on the storm-damaged school roof and submit it to the insurance company

• recognized school bus driver Ilene Olson, who retired last week, for her many years of service

• approved a different date for the next school board meeting-Wednesday, February 16 at 7 p.m.

• learned the school would improve internet infrastructure in several areas of the building including in the middle school and the gym at a cost of $66,000 with $56,000 supplied by federal funding through E-rate