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Seneca School Board unveils fall reopening plan
Seneca School District

SENECA - A lot of meetings of the Seneca School Board are relatively short events focused on a brief and concise agenda. Then, there was Monday’s meeting. after three hours of discussion in the open session, the board took a break before going into closed session to discuss personnel matters.

Like schools everywhere, Seneca is wrestling with concerns about reopening this fall in the midst of COVID pandemic.

At the meeting Monday, Seneca School District Administrator Dave Boland presented a plan developed by the administration and the district’s re-opening committee.

Boland outlined lots of details about seating, lunch schedules, keeping classes separated from each other and lots more steps aimed to minimize the student and staff exposure to contracting the virus.

However, at the heart of the plan are two things the district feels will protect people from the virus–facemasks and social distancing.

Students, staff, even visitors and vendors, will be required to wear a facemask, when they enter the building.

Facemasks will not be required outdoors if the students maintain social distancing, which is six feet for students in grades 5 through 12, as well as staff, and three feet or more for students in grades K through four. 

Boland told the board that facemask requirements would not be in place for staff working alone in their rooms and could be relaxed for students inside the building, if social distancing could be maintained and other conditions existed.

The administrator acknowledged that students and staff would probably suffer from facemask fatigue at some points and teachers could decide to take students on a walk with social distancing in place.

Facemasks will not be required when students are outside for recess or physical education, if they are able to maintain social distancing. If students congregate to talk or interact while outside, then masks would be required.

For their part, the board listened closely to the plan, asked questions and made suggestions.

Using the legal advice provided by attorneys from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the administration made some changes to the employee handbook, the student handbook and extra-curricular handbook.

One change for employees was the clarification of compensation that would be due staff members if they were required to quarantine based on the presence of positive tests for COVID.

Since face mask requirements are being made of both students and staff, the board discussion covered both groups.

Seneca School Board President Mark Johnson favored the rules requiring masks to be worn.

“We need to be careful,” Johnson said. “I’m all for facemasks.”

Board member Larry Kelly indicated that he was not a believer in masks. He also noted that requiring masks would be a tough sell in Crawford County.

However, Kelly stated he was not comfortable putting young people at risk and would favor the facemask requirement. He asked if there had been any negative feedback from teachers.

Boland said that he had heard no concerns during the many meetings he had with teachers in the summer.

Board member Charles Clark was concerned with individuals, who have pre-existing health conditions.

“Where we know there are people with pre-existing health conditions, I’m not willing to put my stamp on it if someone could die,” Clark said of the notion of not requiring facemasks.

Boland made the point the school must act on behalf of the children.

“In a business it’s different,” Boland said. “You’re dealing with consenting adults. We’re not dealing with consenting adults.”

Board member Rachael George works as a nurse at Crossing Rivers Health in Prairie du Chien and must wear a mask and face shield during large portions of her day. She noted they can get uncomfortable at times, and that is was hard to hear people through masks sometimes.

Boland said the district had found small amplifiers with clip-on mikes that help people make themselves heard, when wearing masks. He said five staff members had indicated they’d be interested in trying the amplifier.

At one point, Kelly said he would go with the plans as proposed, but would reserve the right to change his mind, noting that there was a lot of reading in front of the him.

Johnson moved to approve the changes to the employee handbook and Clark second the motion, which the board passed

Another part of the plan will be to take everyone’s temperature as they enter the building. A fever can be a symptom of a COVID infection.

The school secretary and aides will be responsible for manning four thermometers at the various entrances in the morning.

The plan calls for all Kindergarten through fifth grade students to attend school five days per week. In grades six through 12, the plan calls for each class to be divided into thirds and have a rotating third of each class attending virtually by computer every day. The reduced number of students will allow for more distancing. 

Board member Chad Sime made the motion to approve changes to the student handbook and Charles Clark seconded the motion which the board passed.

Chad Sime moved to approve changes to the extracurricular handbook and Brittany Joy seconded the motion, which the board approved.

The board spent considerable time reviewing the school reopening plan and asking questions. The entire plan will be posted on the school’s website and parents will be encouraged to review it. A survey of parents will be posted on the website, after the parents have had time to review the reopening plan.

Several board members said they are very interested in seeing the results of the survey to judge the parent reaction.

On more than one occasion, Boland told the board that public health officials indicated that there will probably be  a stoppage or closure of school at some point in the future. The administrator said that he believes the experience gained in spring and now in fall will help the school convert smoothly to all virtual when a closure occurs.

Boland praised the help that the district has received from Crawford County Public Health and Crawford County Emergency Management.

The final item of new business on the agenda was fall extracurricular activities. Boland noted that to date the WIAA was offering no guidance on what should be done with sports in the fall.

The administrator explained that at a meeting of 35 CESA #3 administrators, there was unanimous support for a plan to not play fall sports and try and start in December with the winter sports, like basketball. Then, in April and May, play the fall sports of football and volleyball. The spring sports, softball, baseball and track, would be offered in June and July.

This plan, unanimously supported by the local district administrators, was sent to the WIAA for their consideration. CESA # 8 endorsed the plan and several athletic conferences have also endorsed it. 

The Seneca School Board voted to endorse the plan as a district and send that endorsement to the WIAA as well. Clark made a motion to support the CESA #3 plan and Joy seconded the motion, which was passed by the board.

In other business, the Seneca School Board:

• chose to give the Seneca Area School District Monthly Recognition Award to Dave Boland and the Re-opening Committee for their plan for the school this fall and to ag teacher Kally Koch for her outstanding work in the ag program

• approved purchase of copying machines and their service from Tri State Business Machines based on their bid

• approved the employee insurance plans that included a five percent increase in the health insurance cost

• agreed to drop any costs for Seneca students attending home athletic events for the 2020-21 school year 

• chose to continue receiving occupational therapy service from Crossing Rivers Health

• approved holding the district annual meeting on Tuesday, October 13 at 7 p.m.

• learned there had been no incidents of seclusion or restraint of students in 2019-2020  school year (reporting is required by law)

• approved paying for membership in the Wisconsin Rural School Association

• approved a bread bid from Bimbo Bakery that included a price increase on some items

• approved a milk bid from Prairie Farm-Swiss Valley 

Returning to open session following the closed session, the Seneca School Board:

• approved hiring Becky Kramer as the new ag teacher

• accepted with regret the resignation of school nurse Mona Fisher after 26 years of service to the district

• increased the role of principal Alex Osterkamp to a half-time position