Rib Lake schools ‘cautiously optimistic’ with start of year
Rib Lake School District had been in session for a little over a week at the time of their September 10 meeting, with things going well thus far. They had lost valuable instruction time at the end of last school year due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, but elementary principal Jon Dallmann said they are “cautiously optimistic” in regards to the near-future of their schools, adding that they haven’t noticed a significant downwards slide in student assessments stemming from the early closures.
For the most part, students are complying with the new safety precautions including wearing masks, although Dallmann noted that the district believes wearing a mask changes the way a student listens to them, especially if disciplining a student, and they may lose attention if wearing a mask.
High school principal Kirsten Budimlija said that the new block scheduling was a bit awkward for students at first, but they’ve managed to get in the swing of things. Custodians, meanwhile, are staying on top of cleaning and sanitation.
With families still finding out whether they want their children taught in-person or virtually, the district never had student movement so late in the enrollment period, making their exact student body number hard to pin down for budgeting purposes.
Some have been having classes outside, with district administrator Rick Cardey remarking they choose to view that as one of the few positives they’re taking away from the pandemic.
The prekindergarten through fourth grade has been using the virtual system Seesaw, which Dallmann described as similar to an academic version of Facebook, where teachers, parents, and students can all message each other and see when they log in. A variety of lessons are available on the platform, including ones from teachers not in the Rib Lake district, although those lessons aren’t always free.
Seesaw contains a journal that shows students’ tasks, and they can save a draft to pick up work on an assignment later on. However, they foresee problems with internet crashes which may result in lost work.
Cardey explained that if a student’s parent is quarantined, the district will be able to provide a device with Seesaw to the child so they can stay home and not fall behind on lessons.
Rib Lake’s assigned seating bus plan is going well for students. Athletics teams were hesitant to follow assigned seating on their buses, but Cardey pointed out to them that if the entire bus gets quarantined due to people sitting wherever they want, they’d have no athletic team to participate against other schools.
“They said they’ll do it after that,” said Cardey. “That’s what we want kids to understand. What’s the big picture, what’s wise, what’s the overall consequences.”
Athletic director Mike Wudi agreed, saying that mandatory assigned seating may not stop the spread of COVID-19 among the athletes, but it would help lessen the impact.
Board member Rollie Thums found it ironic that the district will require assigned seating on athletic buses, but then have the kids standing next to each other on the field and sitting side-by-side on the bench, particularly since they’ll be breathing heavily from physical activity.
“It seems to me a little overkill,” Thums said. “I understand it’s all rules and regulations, but you separate the football boys on the bus just to have them pile on each other on the field.”
Wudi said it’s an idea he struggled with as well, but they have an obligation to do as much as they can to help stop the spread of the virus, and noted that sports is an option not a requirement and the increased exposure risk is a choice up to the families and students.
Thums in turn recognized the need for precautions, noting that no matter what the district does to keep students safe there will be those who will still blame them for not doing enough, despite the drastic measures taken.
“I totally understand your frustration, because I’m frustrated about it too,” Thums told Wudi. “But [I believe] it will all be over after the election, so don’t worry about it.”
Board president Steve Martin expressed his eagerness to get back into the swing of things, and said he was happy about the turnout for a cross-country meet that occurred on the same night of the board meeting, pointing out that it shows just how much people want to get back to normal. Wudi agreed, adding that the parents in attendance were doing a good job of distancing themselves into smaller family clusters rather than spreading out all over the place.
Athletic meets will be run differently as a whole. Face masks will not be required at outdoor sports meetings, although Rib Lake school officials are going to recommend them. However, their conference is pushing for some form of face coverings for football players, and Rib Lake plans to experiment with face-shields. Wudi said they’ll likely give a visiting team the middle school gym and locker room for changing/preparing. Concessions will likely not be served at any sports meetings, or at the very least heavily limited. Sealed and prepackaged items may be allowed, but there will be nothing such as hot chocolate or pizza.
Wudi noted that live streaming outdoor games would be difficult since there’s no wifi available out on the field, but they may try to use Hudl, a service which coaches utilize to record games and scout players.
“It wouldn’t necessarily be a live stream, but people who couldn’t come to the game could watch it a day later, at no charge,” explained Wudi. “So we’ll see where that goes, but that’s kind of our plans there.”
For sports played inside, such as volleyball, they are going to try to keep the occupancy under 50% of the gym’s normal capacity and face masks will be required for attendees.
They are looking at restricting fan attendance to around 45 tickets per team, though they may be able to live stream the games.
“Forty-five is not a lot, I get that, that’s basically two tickets per player, but that’s the best we can do right now,” said Wudi.
He noted that other schools in the same conference are setting up similar restrictions, which surprised him since Rib Lake has a smaller gym than others.
Again, concessions will for the most part be unavailable, but Wudi said that volleyball teams will have to come dressed and won’t be allowed access to locker rooms.
“It’s going to be hectic,” he said. “The first time we host one of these events it’s going to be a little chaotic. But we’ll get through it somehow, and if we have to adjust we will.”
In other business, board members discussed the following items: The district entered a contract with Presence Learning through CESA 9, a virtual speech and language provider, for $95,000. Dallmann said they were unable to find a person to hire for an actual in-school position, but they hope to find someone next year.
The alternative of setting up the contract would be students going to a health care provider and sending the district the bill.
New hires: Part-time special education aides Rebecca Van Luven, Lisa Schubert, and Zoe Neumann; Part-time food server/library aide Tom Krogman.
Rib Lake 2020-2021 annual meeting date was moved up and will be held on October 5.
Continue setting up their district administrator search and will look at applications on September 28, after which they will set up interviews.
—Rib Lake administrator Rick Cardey