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Gilman School District follows guidance from residents

Gilman School Board is getting ready for reopening the district, and are taking every precaution they can to ensure the safety of students, staff, and family.

To gauge the feelings of parents on the situation, the district sent out a survey to parents to determine how comfortable parents are with reopening. Out of 143 responses, 82.5% of respondents said they intended to send their children to school in the fall, and 17.5% said they were uncertain. Of those who said they were uncertain, the majority leaned towards virtual learning over in-class education.

Concerns over a COVID-19 vaccination were noted by survey participants, with 34.3% saying they wouldn’t want school full time if a vaccination wasn’t widely available; as it stands, a vaccination is extremely unlikely to be publicly available by September 1, the school’s start date. Responses included preferences of blended virtual and in-person learning, and partial school days to allow for fewer students in classrooms.

Thirty-three staff members were surveyed as well, with 39% saying they were comfortable without concern, while 61% said they had concerns with returning. Staff cited additional sanitary measures and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations as measures to increase comfort level.

Masks are a debated topic, with administration being unable to require students to wear masks in school; the board believes the small population compared to the relatively large size of the school will allow everybody to social distance effectively.

In the survey, nearly 60% of the 143 parent respondents said they would not feel more comfortable if staff were required to wear a face mask.

“I can’t understand that,” said board member Darrel Thompson, pointing out that there are no downsides to wearing a mask, and that they only slow the spread of the virus. “Wouldn’t that automatically increase your comfort level?”

Superintendent Wally Leipart conjectured that some parents may think masks are completely unnecessary, which Thompson replied is even more not understandable. Fifty-four percent of parent participants said they didn’t want their kids wearing a mask while in school, while 25% said they did.

Despite this, the district may require students to wear masks where they can’t social distance properly.

“We can’t social distance on a bus. That’s a different situation than in the classroom,” said Leipart. “The reality is we may require masks in order to ride the bus.”

Leipart noted the board’s goal is to create the safest environment they have the ability to, and in doing so, some of the decisions they make are going to be “less than popular” to some select individuals.

“But, they’re going to be necessary,” he said.

Mandatory symptom checks may be required, but without the use of masks, it may be wholly ineffective: the majority of virus cases are spread before the infected individual begins showing symptoms, meaning they could be attending school for up to and including two full weeks without showing signs of COVID-19, all the while infecting their peers. This could lead to particularly dangerous situation, as young students are among the least likely to be affected by or show symptoms of the virus, meaning they could spread it around to their elderly relatives without ever knowing they themselves had the disease.

“Doing temperature checks isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Leipart. “But my suggestion is that at least teachers monitor themselves on a daily basis.”

If a student or employee has a fever, they will be sent home for a minimum 72 hours. Specifically, Leipart stated that in order to return, they have to be fever-free for 72 hours without the use of fever reducing medication. If someone in the school tests positive for COVID-19, anyone who spent more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of the infected individual would also be quarantined for a minimum of 10 days, but more probably 14 days.

The quarantine time lengths pose another problem on the staffing side of the district, because if 10 kids are put into quarantine the school can operate as normal, but if 10 staff are quarantined and absent from work the school’s infrastructure would suffer greatly.

“With that many employees out we’re not going to be able to keep the building open,” said Leipart. “We’d have to shut the building down for 14 days.”

Board president Bruce Ewings Sr. pointed out that if one student shows signs of COVID-19, their siblings would likely have to stay home from school too, as well as the people they all had contact with, potentially leading to a domino effect.

The threat of COVID-19 forcing a second school closure is high on the list of Gilman’s pressing matters, and as such, they are underlining the importance of e-succeed, the district’s virtual school program. As of now, the district has 47 full-time students enrolled in the program, up massively from the previous year.

“We intend to be here five days a week, but we do have a plan if we have to close,” said Leipart.

After the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association released their guidelines at the end of June, Gilman administration had a meeting with the varsity coaches to establish expectations and procedures to keep everyone as safe as possible while participating in sporting events and practice.

“Our efforts have been focused on looking how we return to school, how we do it safely, and yet still make this a place our students and staff want to be in and look forward to coming to everyday,” said principal Jon Hess, saying the meeting was productive and reasonable guidelines established.

The 3P Community Fitness Center, located in the school, reopened their doors in a limited capacity with reduced hours on July 13, although the district is only doing a deep-clean every couple days. Hess said they will have to start looking again at whether the center can be kept open, as it provides more opportunity for the virus to enter the school, and the main focus is to ensure the school can open September 1.

Staff Hires

To further bolster safety, the board approved the hiring of a long-term substitute teacher, Jonelle Trunkel. The reasoning behind the hire is to have less people coming in and out of the school; the same was done for a full-time paraprofessional, Morgan Webster.

“We’ve got to keep our circle small if we want to keep COVID-19 cases low,” explained Leipart.

Jessica Ronning was hired as a combined agriculture and science teacher.

Gilman 2020 Graduation Canceled Permanently

In a close 3-4 vote, the Gilman School District Board chose to cancel their 2020 senior graduation ceremony and will not be revisiting the topic. Ewings, Thompson, and board clerk Val Kulesa voted to hold the ceremony as planned, but were overruled by vice president Cheryl Ustianowski, treasurer Gina Timm, and board members Matt Chaplinski and Jessica Wisocky, who all voted to cancel the ceremony.