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Community expresses concerns at Howard-Suamico meeting

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – It was standing room only as the community came out in droves to the Monday, July 20, Howard-Suamico school board meeting.

With concerns about bussing, masks and in-person instruction, the first 45 minutes were filled with public comments.

“Our mental health is important,” said Ashley Rubright, an incoming Bay Port freshman. “There’s only so much you can do. Sitting at a screen all day is hardly the engagement we get at school and extracurriculars, too.”

Rubright implored the board to use students willing to go back to classes as “guinea pigs.”

“My education shouldn’t be affected by those who are afraid to go to school,” she said.

Local resident Frank Ingram expressed concerns over the masking policy laid out in the district’s initial plan, which only recommended the use of masks, which he called “cavalier and uniformed behavior.”

“It may well be these students and staff who chose not to wear masks come from households with a very low risk, or consisting of very young people and they consider themselves invincible,” Ingram said. “However, in school they will be in close contact with others with different circumstances.”

All but one person in attendance was in a mask, and later in the meeting Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the plans will likely change when the next draft is released in the near future.

Andrea Vlach, Suamico, said she wants to see all students in every grade level in the classroom five days a week.

“Our students need social, emotional and mental wellness as much as they need academics, and they’re not going to get that looking at computer screens, because if that was the case, we’d all be homeschooling our children and keeping our tax money,” Vlach said.

The majority of public comments surrounded a survey staff sent in regards to select bussing pickup for families possibly being discontinued due to increased costs to ensure proper social distancing on school buses.

For parents who need to be at work before school starts, the district has allowed their children to be picked up at different locations, such as child care centers.

Multiple child care center operators spoke on the ramifications of eliminating that option for parents.

“Some of my colleagues over here let you know about the economic impact,” said Nicole Matschullat, who runs Step Ahead Child Care Center. “If we don’t have school-agers before and after school, we will then need to make up for that somehow. Which means we will have to offer more care for children in our community so we will no longer have a school-aged program.”

LaCroix said any community feedback was good feedback and will be taken into consideration as the district hones its plans for fall.

“We have to be flexible and change with community health positions,” he said. “It’s important for us to get feedback. I think tonight was great, as uncomfortable as it is. I’d rather get it now and make course corrections.”

LaCroix presented a grieving process slide and said currently people are in the depression phase, the lowest point.

“We need to move through the dip together and really, our job as leaders collectively is how do we make the dip shorter and more shallow?” he said. “And we do that through good planning and communication.”

As of July 20, he said Brown County currently has a positive percentage of tests over 10 percent.

Ideally, LaCroix said he would like to see the number closer to 5 percent when schools are planned to resume in four to six weeks.

Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development, said “everything is on the table” in regards to what can or can’t happen in the coming weeks.

The district planned another task force meeting for July 22. The second version of the district’s plan is set to be released July 24. A parent focus group meeting is scheduled for July 28. The eighth task force meeting is set for July 29. The third version of the plan is to be released July 31. A joint press conference is scheduled for the week of Aug. 3.

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