On split vote, ACSD Board rejects proposed end to mask mandate

by Brianne Eilers

The Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) Board of Directors regular monthly meeting was moved to Wednesday evening, March 17 due to the snowstorm that gripped the area on the board’s usual monthly Monday meeting night of March 15.

Under the consent agenda, the board approved the following personnel: After School Programming staff; Emily Shannon Timm as art teacher; and Alicia Enyart as West Elementary associate/Kids Club coordinator. The board accepted the resignations of Joey Lapel and Mike Shupe from their Teacher Leader Compensation (TLC) positions, as well as Chris Dahlstrom from his seventh grade track coaching position. The board also accepted the resignation of Virginia Kurth from her Middle School After School Programming position, due to retirement.

Jason Dahlstrom was transferred from high school night shift custodian to West Elementary day shift. Maria Baker was transferred from part-time associate/West Elementary After School Program coordinator to full-time associate. Several open enrollments were also approved, as was the UNI Cooperative Teaching Agreement.

The Summer Feeding Program was also approved, and meals will be served Monday through Friday from June 1 to June 28 and August 2 to August 13 at the Waukon Middle School. More information will be sent out to parents in May and there will be additional advertising of the program as well.

During the Communications time of the meeting, the board heard a presentation from several staff members regarding the CTE (Career and Technical Education) PLC (Professional Learning Community). Staff members talked about the curriculum and self-studies as well as the student organizations involved, which are the FBLA, FFA and Industrial Technology CTSO (Career and Technical Student Organization). They also talked about CTE programs in the school and what new courses they are looking to offer, including an entrepreneurship class and computer science principles.

In his superintendent’s report, Jay Mathis noted that staff will be receiving their second COVID vaccine Thursday, March 25. Mathis also noted that Vic Amaroso will be getting an analysis of the latest recommendations for improvement in air quality in the ACSD buildings and some may qualify for using ESSER II funds to pay for them. ISASP testing will be the week of April 12.

Waukon High School Principal Jennifer Garin reported the Construction class house project is moving along. FBLA students are preparing for State Leadership Conference. National Honor Society induction night was held March 18, Prom will be held Saturday, April 24 and Senior Awards Night will be May 18. Parent/Teacher Conferences were scheduled to be held March 22 and 23. ISASP Assessments will be held April 7 through April 15 and parents should be receiving an email.

Waukon High School Assistant Principal/Activities Director Brian Hilsabeck noted that winter activities have finished up and Speech participants have been seeing great results. FBLA students and sponsors were extremely successful during the virtual Regional Leadership Conference and FFA students are performing well in their proficiency checks and contests. Senior Bailey Shafer earned the Iowa Bankers Association Student Athlete Achievement Award and scholarship. Hilsabeck also updated the board on upcoming track and golf meet dates, musical dates, National Honor Society and Prom.

Waukon Middle School Principal Luke Steege noted that staff is looking forward to getting into the fourth quarter of the school year. He noted that his staff continues to help students grow academically and behaviorally. The middle school play was completed March 12 and track practices are set to begin in early April. The Middle School March Madness 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament is underway as well. Steege also noted that he received an email complimenting the middle school teachers on their Zoom sessions for virtual days. The middle school will also be holding a semiformal dance that the students are excited about.

East and West Elementary Principal Samantha Thornton reported they had 60 registrants for kindergarten and 30 for preschool. She is anticipating that there will be four kindergarten classes, one transitional kindergarten classroom and three preschool classrooms. Thornton noted that they are planning to have an in-person parent night for Pre-K and Kindergarten parents. There will be in-person spring concerts this year and information will be sent home with students regarding that. East and West will hold their Spellathon coming up soon and there will possibly be some field trip opportunities for students this spring. Thornton also thanked all those who helped during Read Across America Week.

ACSD Curriculum Director Eliza Philpot noted that elementary math teachers will be updating their curriculum. She is also working with elementary special education teachers to align core content. She updated the board on PLC and teacher leader personal development planning.

Buildings and Grounds Director Bill Hennessy noted that West Elementary ladders are finished and the ceiling around them is complete. His department is getting ready for spring and making sure equipment is ready. Hennessy noted that the heating systems have been running well so far, with only a few minor issues. He also thanked his staff for stepping up and doing a good job with all of the extra things that have been asked of them.

Technology Director Shawn Gordon reported that they received competitive bids for the ERATE category 1 and category 2 projects. Later in the meeting, the board approved the bid from Iowa Communications Network as ERATE Category 1 internet provider for $1,152 per month.

The board also approved Heartland Business Systems as Category 2 ERATE network upgrade for a total of $150,812.97.

Gordon also noted that the district’s firewall security network is coming due at the end of June. Later in the meeting the board approved CDWG for a firewall update in the amount of $11,808.16. ISASP testing software has been installed. E-Registration for the 2021-2022 school year is updating and they are in the process of moving registration forms to the new site.

Food Service Director Julie Magner noted in her report that things are going well in her department. Transportation Director Andrew Eberling noted that the new buses have been ordered and he is anticipating they would have them by the first part of May. Bus inspections were March 2 and there were none out of service and 13 30-day repairs.

Under Old Business, the board approved the second Reading of numerous Board Policies. Most of those policies dealt with student administration and health matter.

The board then approved the 2021-2022 school calendar. The first day of the school year will be Wednesday, August 25. Graduation will be May 22, 2022 and the end of the school year is scheduled to be May 26, 2022, depending on snow days. Superintendent Mathis was hopeful that the State of Iowa will continue to allow schools to use virtual learning on “snow days” for the 2021-2022 school year. He also noted that they do have an extra 53.5 hours built into the calendar.

The board discussed preschool iPads and approved a bid from Apple Computer Inc. for the purchase of 18 iPads for $6,772.00 and from CDWG for 18 protective cases at the cost of $905.22.

The board set the date of April 7, 2021 at 7 a.m. as the time for a public hearing on the 2021-2022 budget and as the time for a public hearing on amending the 2020-2021 budget. The board also approved the hiring of A&J Associates to do a study on the COVID-19 preparedness of the HVAC systems in all the district’s buildings for a total of $7,000. This will be paid for out of ESSER II funds.

Approval was given to a contract agreement with the Allamakee Community Education Association that includes a 3.20% total package increase. The board also approved salaries for the 2021-2022 school year for support staff, department heads and administrative staff. The board then approved the issuance of contracts.

Several summer projects were also approved, including East Elementary touchless faucets, $17,515 (ESSER II Funds), Casper Plbg. & Htg. Inc.; concrete work in maintenance shed, $7,800, Beneke Construction; weight room doors, $8,265.53 (ESSER II Funds), Decorah Mobile Glass Inc.; West Elementary locker painting, $11,654, Tom’s Painting; and East Elementary stage electrical panels, $1,500, Ken Kerr Electric.

The board approved the first reading of a number of Board Policies. A majority of those policies dealt with educational and student development matters.

Discussion then moved to the possibility of removing the requirement for students to wear masks in school. Superintendent Mathis noted that this topic was being visited because the case numbers at the school have been good and the staff is receiving their second dose of the vaccine March 25. Board members Scott Melcher and Brent Beyer expressed that they have received comments from parents and the community that people would like to see the mask requirement be rescinded.

Board member Beth Shafer noted that she has heard many comments being in favor for students wearing masks. Erik Helgerson noted that with the new variants of COVID, some which spread quickly, he would like to keep the requirement until the end of this school year. It was pointed out that the Iowa assessment tests are coming up and should the mask requirement be rescinded, there is a possibility that students may end up in quarantine situations and that could disrupt testing and learning. It was then suggested that the district set a date in April, after testing, for the mask mandate to end.

The question was asked of staff members attending the meeting how they felt about doing away with the mask requirement. The staff members noted that the students seem to learn better in the classroom as opposed to virtual learning, so they don’t want to see a situation where students will not be able to attend school in-person because of quarantine situations or because the family isn’t comfortable with a no-mask situation.

Staff also noted that for the most part, students have adapted to wearing their masks. It was also noted that while wearing a mask may be a choice, a quarantine situation is not a choice. The motion was made to remove the mask requirement, however the vote was two “aye” votes to three “nay” votes, and the motion did not pass.

Board members did feel it was important to note that this is not an easy position for them to be in, especially with such a divisive subject, and they want to do what is best for students and staff of the district. While there may be disagreeing opinions on this or any subject, they reminded everyone that when they leave the board meetings, none of the board members allow those differences of opinion to impact their relationships with one another.

The final item of business, prior to adjournment, was the approval of the West Elementary HVAC project agenda item for the amount of $2,640.00.

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