SENECA - There was definitely emotion, and at times it seemed like anger was just around the corner, but the one-and-a-half-hour special meeting of the Seneca School Board served a purpose.
When it was over, everyone in the crowd of more than 50 had been given their chance to express an opinion on the girls volleyball season being switched from fall to spring.
The idea for the meeting started when parents of volleyball players realized that the school board had decided to move the Seneca volleyball season to spring, while the seven other volleyball teams in the Ridge and Valley Conference had opted to play in the fall.
In addition to volleyball, the Seneca School Board also moved the football and cross country seasons to special spring seasons created for fall sports by the WIAA. The fall sports to be played in spring are scheduled between the end of winter sports and the start of spring sports.
Some Seneca parents, players and supporters felt they had been left out of the decision-making process and that the board had not sought input from the parents and players.
Parent Jeanne Aspenson, who requested the special meeting be held, wanted to see if the decision could be reversed. The mother of volleyball players was surprised to learn the decision was made at the August board meeting and she did not know about it. She questioned whether proper notice of the agenda was made.
The school district posted the agenda where they have in the past–the Seneca Post Office, the Peoples State Bank and school. That’s what’s legally required.
The agenda was also sent to radio stations in in Prairie du Chien and Viroqua, which were encouraged to read it on air. Another agenda was sent to the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout. The agendas were not paid legal notices at the newspaper or radio stations. The legal posting was at the bank, school and post office. Aspenson brought up the matter at the meeting.
Seneca School District Administrator Dave Boland reviewed the agenda posting process. He noted that at the August board meeting it was agreed the agenda would be posted on the school district website in the future, as well as the other places it is now posted.
Nevertheless, Boland noted that the matter of playing fall sports in the spring had been on the agenda at three meetings where is was discussed and ultimately decided. The first discussion took place at the regular July board meeting. Then, the board brought it up at special walk-through meeting in July designed to review the building and facilities. Finally, fall sports seasons were put on the agenda and decided at the August meeting.
Aspenson and others at the meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 1 stated that the board needed to get input from parents and players to make the decision and had not gotten it.
It seemed that most of those at the meeting came because they wanted a fall volleyball season. The Seneca volleyball team has won the Ridge and Valley Conference Championship for the past three years. The parents and players present asked the board if there was a way to approach the Ridge and Valley Conference with an appeal to get back into the fall season.
For his part, Boland was skeptical that even if the board approved such an attempt that it would work. He noted that Seneca informed the conference on August 19 that they were opting for a spring season.
At that point, the conference made a schedule that included Hillsboro from the Scenic Bluffs Conference. Hillsboro was the only school from that conference that sought to play fall volleyball. Now, Seneca is scheduled to play teams from the Scenic Bluffs Conference in the spring.
Parents and their supporters urged the board to attempt to get the team back into the Ridge and Valley Conference for the fall season.
A person at the meeting stated that they thought with Seneca opting out of fall play, the other schools were doing the same.
At one point, the discussion seemed to be sidetracked in the school’s mask policy requiring all students and staff to wear masks inside the building.
When a man attending the meeting took issue with the policy, Seneca School Board Member Charles Clark informed the man that he wears a mask all day long at his job.
School board member Rachael George employed at Crossing Rivers Health also wears a mask at work.
Volleyball teams playing in the fall season will wear masks and the ball will be sanitized frequently. No spectators will be allowed.
Playing Scenic Bluff schools in the spring, Seneca will face Cashton and Royall, among other teams.
Jeanne Aspenson emphasized that no one asked the players what they wanted to do.
Board member Clark noted that if he asked his daughter if she wants to play in the fall she might say yes.
“Do I always make the decision my daughter wants me to make?” Clark asked rhetorically.
Nevertheless, there were those in the meeting who felt the decision should be left to the players.
“The girls would say ‘I’ll take the risk’,” one adult participant said. “You making the decision for them is not fair.”
Many at the meeting wondered if there was still an opportunity to get back into the fall season with the Ridge and Valley Conference for the volleyball season.
One woman questioned whether the board had the data and knowledge necessary to make an informed decision about the fall volleyball season.
School board member Chad Sime said the priority for the district was to get the students back in school.
“We needed the kids back in school,” Sime said. “The priority was not sports. It was getting the kids back in school and getting everything going again.”
Sime noted the deadline for the decision set by the WIAA had now passed.
Jeanne Aspenson said the WIAA indicated they were allowing leeway.
Boland was not sure who Seneca would play at this point with schedules made.
Second-year volleyball coach Jessica Dworschack explained her support for the spring season. She emphasized that she was asked for her opinion not what the athletes’ or parents’ opinions might be.
“In my opinion, a spring volleyball season seemed like it was a better opportunity for the girls,” Dworschack explained.
The coach also explained if the fall season is cancelled after 50 percent is played, those teams will not have an opportunity to play out the season later.
Several people brought up the idea that just because the students weren’t playing in the fall did not mean they would not be hanging out together after school.
A person asked that every board member state their opinion and whether they would be willing to make a motion to reconsider the decision on the spring season.
Board member Larry Kelley stated there were two reasons why he voted for a spring season. First, he thought the priority of educating children meant getting them back into the school and keeping them in school safely. Second, he felt the volleyball team would have a better chance to get a full season in the spring.
Kelley said he stood by the decision that had been made.
School board member Charles Clark told the group that he had to make a decision and he did.
“I’m not changing that decision,” Clark said. “We have to make a decision for everyone. I am not willing to put one kid at risk.”
School board member Tyler Aspenson took issue with the idea that people didn’t know about the previous meetings and discussion of fall sports.
“I’m going with Larry,” Aspenson said. “We need to get the kids in school and they need to be educated.”
Aspenson indicated he did not agree with the special meeting.
“We’re the board of education, not the board of sports,” Aspenson said.
School board member Chad Sime stated that the board had been doing a lot and the decision was not taken lightly. He noted the vote was unanimous. (Actually board member Brittany Joy had abstained since her husband is a football coach.)
“I don’t care what other schools did, we made the right decision for our school,” Sime said.
Seneca School Board President Mark Johnson speaking remotely via computer reminded everyone that an awful lot of time was put in by the reopening committee.
“They did a ton of work with the school board, all the kids, the staff and businesses,” Johnson explained.
“To protect our school, the board made the decision to move these sports to spring,” Johnson said. “We made what we thought was the best decision for our school–not Prairie du Chien or Wauzeka or DeSoto….I do not feel we need to change our decision.”
School board member Rachael George noted that the community was divided by the situation.
“We did the best we could for everybody,” George said. “We wanted to get back to school and to get back to school safely.
“It hurts to see everybody fighting, to see everybody divided,” George said. “The whole country is divided.
“Sports are important,” George acknowledged. “We understand there is a need for sports. But, in my opinion, I think we did the right thing.”
Although some were still unhappy that Seneca could not defend their conference volleyball championship, coach Jessica Dworschack saw it differently.
“Playing Cashton and Royall, I’m kind of excited,” the second-year coach said. “It’s not like playing in our conference and just crushing the other teams. Oh man, I can’t wait. We’ll face some strong competition.”
Several people at the meeting defended the board, noting they acted in good faith as elected representatives. One speaker pointed out that those gathered at the meeting had not run for the school board–himself included.
One of the last comments made came from a Seneca football player.
“The boys prefer to play in March,” the player said. “Everyone agrees March will allow for more competition. But, I’d rather see the volleyball team play in the conference in fall.”
Mark Johnson had asked if there was any motion anyone wanted to make.After a moment, Chad Sime moved to adjourn the meeting, Larry Kelley second the motion and board approved it.