Tense words started before the Lake Mills Area School District Board of Education meeting was called to order Monday night over attendees’ refusal to wear a facemask.
Members of the community expressed their displeasure over the status of the mask mandate in schools and virtual learning in the district, with one person saying, “What a joke.”
Another community member stated the teachers in the district, “Don’t care about the students in the district. They only care about themselves.”
Some of the confusion started when people in attendance at the meeting thought the board may decide Monday to make the schools all virtual. The agenda did include the approval of the L-Cat pandemic plan but said nothing about a decision to close schools.
“We have no plans on shifting to virtual. We will be approving the new metrics tonight, which looks at a number of factors,” said Dr. Tonya Olson, district administrator. “Those factors include a number of things including looking at the positive cases in school, looking at the number of absences we have. I think the board has made very clear all along our goal of staying open and holding in person instruction for as long as possible.”
Olson said the district is still holding in-person instruction, while other districts in the area have gone all virtual.
“We are committed to that and we will make a decision that is best based on the data that is relevant for Lake Mills,” she said.
Olson said her, and the board receive emails almost daily from people on both sides of the issue.
“Thinking the board will be swayed by one group or another is a misnomer. We are looking at the factual information we get on an almost daily basis.”
Olson asked those who were not wearing facemasks to leave the building as a virtual option is also available for those who do not want to wear a face covering.
“I’m not meaning any disrespect to those without facemasks, we are just expecting the same things that we expect out of our kids every day in school.”
Olson said the board meetings going forward will likely be in an all virtual format to avoid additional problems.
The board approved the new L-Cat Pandemic Plan with updated metrics for school closures, quarantines and more and will begin early release on Fridays to allow teachers more time to facilitate virtual learning.
Starting Nov. 13, the district will release students at the high school at noon, middle school at 12:10 p.m. and elementary school at 12:20 p.m.
The Lake Mills Recreation Department will offer an after-school option for elementary school students who need care until the end of the school day.
“Teaching in person and teaching virtually is like two full time jobs,” Olson said. “I think when you are a professional and you are working around the clock and you still don’t feel like you are doing your best work, that’s a hard place to be in.”
She said the current five day a week plan is not sustainable.
“If there are kids who need help and we need to reach out to the teachers need to have time to do that. They simply do not have time during the day,” Olson said. “So far, I think we’ve been really successful with the plan. We have not seen spread in the district and we have not had a lot of positive cases. The positive cases we’ve seen have come from outside the school district, except for one.”
The district sent out a survey to families Tuesday morning to gauge how many families will need after school care on Fridays.
“One of the main reasons school districts have had to shift to virtual learning is there are staff shortages. It’s hard enough in a normal year because the state of Wisconsin does not have enough substitute teachers,” Olson said. “We’ve also had to have a few quarantines from staff members being close contacts.”
Administrators and others have been covering classes.
“We’ve been doing everything in our power to make the school day run.”
The district should be fully staffed on Wednesday, unless something changes.
Olson said they will be updating the district’s COVID dashboard once a week, along with an explanation of what is going on and why.
The board welcomed new board member Andrew Palmer, who was appointed last month.
“It’s an honor to be here and an honor to be selected by the board,” Palmer said. “This is a work environment and we do have to be respectful to all those who work here.”
The board welcomed Isabella Mendoza, student school board member, who said she feels very safe at school.
“It’s been great both virtual and, in the classroom,” she said. “This is a very challenging time. I think the staff is doing a great job both in person and virtually.”
In other business the board:
— Approved a contract with Joe Schroeder Consulting for $9,000 plus expenses for the district’s strategic planning initiative.
— Approved a contract with school perceptions for $5,150 to conduct a community climate survey to go along with the strategic planning process. The electronic survey will go out to families after the election in November and is open to anyone in the community.
“We are seeking the community input to help guide us over the next five years,” Olson said. “The goal is the strategic plan would take effect July 1, 2021.”
District officials say they will be looking into continued virtual learning after the pandemic is over, especially at the high school level.
— Approved 11 early graduation requests.