ACSD Board of Directors approves mask mandate for district students and staff as last item of regular meeting business

by Brianne Eilers

The Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) Board of Directors met Monday evening, November 16 for its regular monthly meeting. As its last item of business for the meeting, the board approved mandatory mask usage by students and staff throughout the district on a split, 3-2 vote.

Under the consent agenda, the board approved the following personnel items: after school program staff; Crystal Corwin as part-time cook; Carolyn Homewood, part-time cook; Ronald Shelton, part-time custodian; and Caleb Ferring as seventh and eighth grade wrestling coach. The following appointments were made: Level I Investigators for Child Abuse Reporting - Jay Mathis and Karen Burke; Level II Investigator for Child Abuse Reporting - Bill Shafer; Equity Coordinator - Luke Steege; Title IX Officer - Jennifer Garin; Truancy Officer - Jennifer Garin; Section 504 Coordinator - Luke Steege; Homeless Liaison - Brian Hilsabeck; Secondary Guidance Counselor - Amy Wasson; and Elementary Guidance Counselor - Stacie Cooper. The board also approved a Sunday request for Indian Travel Basketball.

During the Communications time of the meeting, Superintendent Jay Mathis noted in his report that the district would be adjusting accordingly to comply with any new restrictions or recommendations regarding COVID. He also noted in his report that should ACSD reach a 10% absentee rate or they do not have enough healthy staff members to do in-person learning, they may consider switching to virtual learning. He noted that the district is not considering a hybrid model at this time, as it could cause extra burden for families to find daycare with a rotational schedule.

The district is getting estimates to run electricity to the sign that was donated to the school, previously located at the stop light intersection in downtown Waukon. La Crosse Signs submitted an estimate to place the sign and get it up and running for $3,000. He also congratulated the Waukon football team on its win last Friday.

Waukon High School Principal Jennifer Garin reported that the construction house project is moving along, and they were hoping to have it shingled and begin installing soffit and fascia. She provided the board with a schedule for upcoming professional development. Garin noted that they are close to 80 remote learners in the high school, with the majority being students who have elected to learn from home. High school staff is also working with students to make sure they are academically where they need to be ahead of the upcoming grade checks set for November 20 and December 22.

Waukon Middle School Principal Luke Steege noted in his report that Middle School staff and students are continuing to do what is necessary to keep everyone safe. The first quarter of this school year had a 94.5% attendance rate at the Middle School. Teachers are working with data to create SMART goals for the rest of the school year.

Winter sports are underway, and he noted there are around 16 students learning remotely. Steege also thanked the custodians for their work to keep the schools clean and sanitized. He noted that staff is also working with students on grades.

East and West Elementary Principal Samantha Thornton reported that she and Stacie Cooper applied for a grant funded through the CARES Act and received it. The funds will be used for Social-Emotional curriculum, items to help students self-regulate and a sensory path for East and West schools. There are 16 remote learners and 15 temporary remote learners total from both elementary schools. The Student Support Team has met for the first time and will help students with academic, social, emotional, behavior and mental health needs.

Waukon High School Activities Director and Assistant Principal Brian Hilsabeck congratulated coaches and athletes for successful fall seasons. He also thanked the administrative team for its work and communications during all the changes that have happened over the fall sports season. Hilsabeck reminded everyone that masks will be required at the football game this Friday. He also noted in his report that for winter sports seasons, two spectators will be allowed for each athlete on the roster at each game. Face masks will also be required to be worn unless eating or drinking.

Curriculum Director Eliza Philpott explained to the board how teachers are going to be looking at assessment data and then using that to determine a curriculum guide for students. She noted that they will be looking at many aspects, including what is taught and how it is assessed.

Buildings and Grounds Director Bill Hennessy reported that the custodial staff continues to clean and sanitize the buildings. There has been some work done on the heating systems, and they are further gearing up for the winter season.

Technology Director Shawn Gordon reported that the FCC-ERATE reviewed and granted the additional funding request for increased bandwidth due to COVID for the 2020-21 school year. The laptops repurposed into Chromebooks have been set up and are being used at West. He also said that they are looking at doing some live streamed events for the Middle School afterschool program.

Foodservice Director Julie Magner noted in her report that they have finished up Farm to School month with local foods available. Due to COVID, they did not serve a Veterans Day lunch and will not be preparing lunches for Village Creek retreats or doing Donuts with Dad. She thanked the board for hiring additional staff in the kitchen as well.

Transportation Director Andrew Eberling noted that he will again be applying for a DERA grant for two new LP-powered buses. He also noted that his staff and drivers have been staying healthy. Under Old Business, the second reading of numerous Board Policies was approved. Those policies dealt mainly with board organizational and administrative items.

Moving on to New Business, board president Al Rissman turned the meeting over to board secretary Jaime Curtin as they called for nominations for board president and board vice president. Al Rissman was nominated for board president and Erik Helgerson was nominated for vice president. Oaths of office were administered to both. The official date and time of regular monthly meetings was set for the third Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. Jaime Curtin was appointed the board secretary/treasurer. The following depository banks were named: Waukon State Bank, $11,000,000; FreedomBank, $3,000,000; and ISJIT, $1,000,000.

The Standard newspaper was named as the official publication. The following appointments to various board committees were also made: School Improvement Advisory Committee - Beth Shafer; Negotiations - Allan Rissman and Erik Helgerson; County Compensation - Scott Melcher; Wellness Committee - Brent Beyer; Technology Committee - Allan Rissman and Erik Helgerson; and Curriculum and Technical Advisory Committee - Scott Melcher.

The board then moved on to discuss specifications and bids for two new school buses. Eberling stated that the drivers like the new LP buses and he recommended that the district purchase two 48-passenger LP buses. Bids are due by December 15 at 11 a.m. The board also approved an SBRC Request: Open Enrollment Out not in Fall 2019 in the amount of $82,560. Superintendent Mathis explained that this helps ACSD recoup some funds for students who open enrolled after the certified count. The board then approved a change authorization request for the West Elementary HVAC project.

The board discussed and accepted bond financing proposals, accepting the proposal from Waukon State Bank with an interest rate of 0.84%. In the long run, this will save the district approximately $40,000 per year and would be in effect until 2029. A resolution directing the sale of approximately $5,300,000 school infrastructure sales, services and use tax revenue refunding bonds, series 2020 was approved. A resolution authorizing the redemption of outstanding school infrastructure sales, services and use tax revenue bonds of the Allamakee Community School District, State of Iowa, dated May 15, 2019, and directing notice be given was also approved. Both items were approved by roll call vote with all board members voting “aye”.

The board approved students in PICC and contracted classes, as well as approving seven students for early graduation, pending their meeting all requirements. The board then moved on to the first reading of numerous additional Board Policies. Those policies dealt mainly with school administration and policies regarding students.

The final item prior to adjournment was discussion on making changes to the district’s Return to Learn Plan. The specific topic involved requiring students and staff to wear face masks. While it has been voluntary, Mathis cited the rapidly increasing number of cases of COVID in Allamakee County, as well as the rest of the state and nation.

He explained that the address given by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds last week regarding the use of face masks prompted him to consider making a change in the district’s policy.

During the meeting, the board and those in attendance were also able to get an update on Governor Reynold’s address from Monday night as well. Mathis noted that with 200 staff members and 1,100 students in the district, he felt that the right and responsible thing to do in order to keep everyone safe is to require staff and students to wear face masks in school and on buses.

“We held off on this issue as long as possible,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed that we haven’t had any huge outbreaks in the school yet.” Mathis also said that if it complied with the Governor’s recommendations, building principals should have a day or two to be able to inform and communicate the new requirement to students and their families. “I have given a great deal of thought to this, and agonized over it,” Mathis said of the decision. He felt that this was the best way to keep staff and students safe, and in school.

Board member Brent Beyer said that he felt it should not be required unless there was a State or Federal mandate. “I’m still on the side of allowing a choice,” he said, adding that he wanted to be sure to represent others who feel that way. However, he said if the board chose to go that route, he would respect the decision to do so. Beyer did question how this requirement would affect lunch periods, asking if students would be together for longer than 15 minutes with out having a mask on.

Principal Thornton noted that there would have to be some conversations regarding lunch time. She said that the elementary students do take longer than 15 minutes to eat, and while there is space between them, they may need to look at bringing in more seating to distance further. She also explained that students eat in “pods”, so they are around the same group of kids all day.

Principal Steege noted that the middle schoolers tend to have a 20-minute window to eat, and so they are usually done in less than 15 minutes. Students also have assigned seating at lunch. Steege also noted that in the mornings, they stagger the breakfast meals among grades.

Principal Garin noted that the high school lunch numbers are lower, because they have so many students using the remote learning option. They also have a seat between students and can socially distance or even choose to sit in the hallway. They also generally are done with lunch in less than 15 minutes. She felt that eating lunch in classrooms is not the best solution, as you are putting students in an even smaller area.

Board member Beth Shafer spoke up and said she was in favor of a mask requirement and that this was the right time to do so with cases rising. She also noted that she teaches classes via remote learning and she said in her experience, students learn better with face-to-face learning so if masks can help keep students and staff healthy and in the classroom, it would be best.

When the time came to vote on the change, the board approved the mask requirement, 3-2. Mathis noted that the district would probably start the requirement Thursday, November 19.

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