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Rib Lake board votes to extend mask mandate, for now

The Rib Lake School Board voted 4-2 (Jackie Mohr and Rollie Thums voting no, Steve Martin absent) at its meeting on October 8 to extend the governor’s current face mask mandate until the next regular board meeting in November.

District administrator Rick Cardey told the board a policy was adopted in July when there weren’t many COVID-19 cases in Taylor County that said face coverings were recommended but not required. He said things have changed in regards to the number of cases and before the board meets again in November, the mandatory face mask covering order could be overturned in court or the state legislature could rule that the governor did not have the authority to impose the mandate. In either case, Cardey said he wanted the board to have the opportunity to clarify its position on the face mask issue and how it might affect district operations.

Board member Jason Dananay said things have indeed changed and he was concerned about a number of things about COVID-19. Dananay said he is concerned about the students and the staff and as recent events have shown, could affect a large number of the staff. He said it was “a lot more” real now than when the board talked about it in July.

Board member Nicole Scheller agreed with Dananay. She said COVID-19 is more real and that the numbers have spiked according to recent data. Scheller said the Taylor County Health Department has done a good job keeping the public informed and advised about events. She said in speaking with her son and other students and parents, that they have become used to wearing the masks and it’s not “a big deal” wearing them. Scheller said if mandating wearing the masks is creating a feeling of safety for the students and staff that is helping to improve education, they should keep wearing the masks.

Cardey said the mandate is in affect and that he didn’t want the district to be in a scramble mode if it should change. He said if someone wanted to change the policy at a future board meeting, it would be put on the agenda.

Dananay suggested the board could possibly revisit the issue on the monthly meeting at its regular board meeting. Board member Stacy Tlusty thought that was a good idea and asked Cardey if there needed to be a motion to that effect. Cardey said yes, otherwise he has to go by what the board decided at its July meeting.

Thums said the board adopted its plan before the governor’s mask mandate went into affect. He said while the board wasn’t going to override the mandate, the district already had a plan if the mandate “goes away” and he didn’t know why the board was discussing the issue. Thums said while the mandate is in affect, the students and staff will wear the masks and if the mandate is no longer in affect, students and staff will have the option of wearing a mask. He said that was what was decided in July.

Tlusty said if the mandate were to be dropped before the students and staff return to class after a shutdown and quarantine due to COVID-19 and there wasn’t a mandatory mask policy in place, it wouldn’t look good for the district.

Mohr said her biggest concern was that they didn’t know what the long-term effects will be from students sneezing while wearing masks or getting food in the mask and continuing breathing through it. Mohr said she’s heard from staff that students put the masks on their trays during lunch and sometimes forget about the mask and leave it on the tray or that the mask gets full of food. She said she understands the safety of masks and that they were not in a good situation at this point in time. Mohr said no one knowns what the long-term effects are going to be for students and what they’re breathing in from wearing a mask eight hours a day.

Thums agreed, saying he can’t believe that wearing one face mask all day long was protecting a person. He said the staff in hospitals are required to periodically replace their masks and that he has heard from medical experts that wearing the same mask all day is not good for a person.

Following further discussion, Dananay motioned and Scheller seconded to extend the current mask mandate until the next regular board meeting in November.

Online instruction report

Earlier in the meeting, Cardey said in-school instruction was scheduled to resume on October 12 and that he expected the district to be almost fully-staffed and student attended. He said the district needs to be diligent in being prepared in the event it needs to go back to online instruction on short notice and that the staff had been doing a good job preparing before the school was closed. Cardey said they was glad and excited to have the students coming back.

High and middle school principal Kirsten Budimlija and elementary school secretary Amy Foster briefed the board on what was learned and how it worked when the district went to online instruction.

Foster said the staff had been working hard to make everything go smoothly, especially for the lower grades, and to get parents and students familiar with the programs the district would be using. Overall, Foster said the process went very well and that the staff had learned some things that would be continued once the students are back in the classroom.

Budimija said the shutdown had caught the district off guard and that she was proud of the way the students and staff responded to the situation. She said the staff was much better prepared and organized than when the schools were shut down last spring. Budimlija said teachers were able to facilitate the use of “really great” tools and resources for remote learning that made learning more efficient and effective for students. She said some things they learned should the district be forced to shut down again: that the best way for the staff to refine and improve their teaching was through one another to learn what did and didn’t work; how the district can improve scheduling next time; and looking at parent involvement and how to get them better acquainted with the online resources that are available for remote learning.

Cardey said an unintended positive of the shutdown was that the district had the opportunity to do a trial run of some things. He said the staff now has the opportunity to evaluate what did and didn’t work and how to improve it, and also what does the district need to do to train students to ensure they have all the skills they need for online education. Cardet said overall, it was a good learning experience, but that they were excited about getting the students back into the classroom.