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of contacts with COVID cases. ….

of contacts with COVID cases.

On Oct. 22, the high school switched to all-virtual classes due to COVID-related staff shortages, with students and staff expected to return Nov. 2. On Monday, the elementary and middle schools were closed for one day so the district could finish contact tracing of COVID cases.

Staff shortages have also led to the temporary closure of the food service program, with all students having to bring bag lunches from home as of Oct. 19. Those staff are expected to return this week, with school breakfasts and lunches resuming Thursday.

Superintendent Steve Kolden said Monday that a vast majority of parents sent their kids to school with packed lunches, but about a dozen at the elementary had to be provided with food.

“Any student that came to school and either forgot or wasn’t able to bring a lunch got a meal,” he said.

Parents raise questions

The quartet of mothers who came before the board Monday all shared similar messages about the potential harmful effects of forcing students to wear masks.

Renee Liedberg said she’s worried about an increase in pneumonia cases among students and staff if they have to wear masks all day. As a comparison, she talked about leaving the barn doors closed for an extended period of time at her farm and returning to find the cows suffering from pneumonia.

“I’m just using that as an example,” she said. “Those of you with farms know what I’m talking about.”

Liedberg said she’d prefer to leave it optional for students to wear masks. She questioned if mask mandates really prevent COVID outbreaks, noting that Chippewa Falls schools recently had to switch to all-virtual classes even though they’ve required masks since the start of the school year.

“It didn’t work. It’s spreading just as much over there as it will be here, too,” she said.

A lot of other Colby community members feel the same way she does, Liedberg said, and she expects them to voice their opinions to the board on Nov. 16.

Beth Kosik raised concerns about students with autism or emotional problems who struggle to wear masks. She said doctors have been unwilling to provide written excuses, and are suggesting medication or therapy instead.

At very least, she said students should be allowed to get five minutes of “fresh air” in between their classes. Kosik said she feels like she’s being forced to pull her students into at-home education.

“I’m just trying to do what’s best for my child, and I feel that right is being taken away from me,” she said.

Jessica Ertl echoed Kosik’s concerns about students with severe anxiety who find it difficult to cover their faces.

“Who wants to put a child on medication just because they have to wear a mask?” she asked. “That isn’t right.”

Ertl also shared Liedberg’s concerns regarding respiratory illnesses possibly being caused by masks. She said the masks force people to breath in toxins they have just exhaled, and she’s also seen a video indicating a build-up of carbon dioxide behind masks and shields.

“That’s not healthy,” she said.

Kim Meyer said she’s fortunate her doctor has provided a permission slip for her son not to wear a mask, because he feels suffocated when it’s on his face.

“If I didn’t have that, my kid would be kicked out of school because I know he won’t wear it,” she said.

Meyer also expressed concerns about the masks doing more harm than good, mentioning a claim that they cause an increase in acidity within the body.

“There’s a lot of literature out there that supports the things we’re saying,” she said. “I just would really like to see it added to the agenda because I think parents have a right to come with our concerns and show you the data.”

Board members agreed to put the mask mandate on their next agenda, but they also wanted to hear from the school nurse or other medical professionals about the science behind mask-wearing.

“We want more than ‘I read this on Facebook,’” said board member Cheryl Ploeckelman.

Board president Bill Tesmer and Kolden told the mothers to email them whatever information they have by Nov. 11 so it can be included in the board packet for the Nov. 16 meeting.

Later in the meeting, Kolden said Marshfield Clinic and other medical providers are not giving out many doctor’s notes to students seeking an exemption.

“The medical community is strongly in favor of the masks,” he said. “That’s why you see so few mask exemptions.”

In related news, the board took no action on possibly moving to five days a week of in-person classes. Kolden said having Wednesdays off has been very helpful when the district needs to do contact tracing of COVID cases.

Kolden said the district does plan on moving forward with plans for the 2020-2021 winter sports season, which will include limited attendance at games.

“Moving everything inside will start to create some limits, where we’ll start giving out tickets per participant,” he said. “I think the biggest push will be for parents to see their students from time to time.”

Budget, levy adopted

The board approved a 2020-2021 budget with a total of $12.4 million in expenses and revenue, which includes at a total property tax levy of $3.5 million, an increase of 3.4 percent over last year.

The tax levy will be generated by a mil rate of $9.11 per thousand of property value, which has remained the same for the past four years. For the owners of a house worth $100,000, this means they will pay $911 in taxes to the district.

_ The board reviewed the district’s latest enrollment numbers, which showed a total of 982 students based on a head count on the third Friday in September. This includes 110 students who open-enrolled in and 145 who open-enrolled out.

_ The board accepted the resignations of lunchroom computer aides Cheryl Haas and Cheryl Beyerl and high school custodian Darrin Lampe.

_ The board accepted a donation of cordless headsets for football and track coaches from TSF Construction.