Groups planning to use one of the Waunakee school district’s facilities this summer might want to find another venue for their program. That was the message from its school board last week.

Board members agreed that district facilities would remain closed to outside groups indefinitely.

“Until we’re able to really bring our students and our programs back into school,” superintendent Randy Guttenberg said, “we are holding off from having any outside groups bring programs into our buildings.”

The decision came at a May 26 meeting, following a request from the Wisconsin Youth Company (WYC) to utilize Heritage Elementary School for its 2020 summer camp.

The request raised concern about fairness and groups having equal access to facilities.

Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order mandated that schools remain closed for “instruction and extracurricular activities” until June 30, prohibiting districts from holding their programs on site.

“Public and private K-12 schools shall remain closed for pupil instruction and extracurricular activities for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” the Department of Health Services order stated. “Schools may continue to facilitate distance learning or virtual learning.”

Although the state Supreme Court decided that the order was unenforceable in May, its decision did not apply to the provision requiring schools to remain closed this school year.

As a result, school districts have been prohibited from using their facilities for program purposes.

However, groups unaffiliated with districts could utilize them for other programming. Waunakee school district administrator Randy Guttenberg explained that the entities had separate guidelines.

“We fall into a bit of a gray area where our schools are closed for instructional purposes but could be opened for day care or youth camps,” Guttenberg said. “That’s hard to explain as far as why we have to do certain programs virtually, yet other groups are allowed into our facility.”

School-board treasurer Jack Heinemann agreed.

He noted that allowing an outside group to use facilities while school groups are prohibited from doing so themselves could be negatively perceived by members of the public.

“I’m not sure from an optics standpoint,” Heinemann said. “You know, if we can’t do instructional purposes in our buildings, how can you give the buildings over to somebody else? I’m not sure that those are positive optics.”

Other board members concurred, and a motion to prohibit use of district facilities by outside groups passed unanimously. Wisconsin Youth Company’s request was consequently denied.

WYC has offered summer camp in Waunakee since 2007, averaging 60-70 participants.

The company’s communication director, Maureen Alley, said Heritage Elementary School has served as one of its sites for the past three summers.

“Typically we run two programs in Waunakee,” Alley said, “one at Heritage Elementary and one at the Village Center. Waunakee Community School District notified us this week that we will not have access to Heritage this summer. This means we cannot run one of our camps.”

Alley explained that the Village Center would not have sufficient space to accommodate children from both camps. Therefore, participation in the remaining camp has been limited to 24 children.

Guttenberg said the school board may reconsider its position on facility usage later this summer.

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