Howard-Suamico continues recommended masks
By Heather Graves
SUAMICO – Stay the course.
That was the message Howard-Suamico Superintendent Damian LaCroix shared with a packed boardroom as he said the district will continue its highly recommended, but not required masking policy at the Sept. 13 School Board meeting.
The decision comes as Brown County sees an upward trend in COVID-19 positive cases, more classrooms being quarantined and the infection rate hovering just under a severe level, which LaCroix previously said could warrant a move to require masks in Howard-Suamico.
“In terms of school-system spread – we are seeing isolated cases,” he said. “Not many cases of students in quarantine who subsequently then receive positive COVID results. Compared to last fall, when we were in a full-mask environment, and it is not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, but we are roughly where we were at this time last year in a fully-masked environment when you look at school-system spread. We will continue to monitor that and share that with the board moving forward.”
LaCroix said he isn’t afraid of criticism, but worried about the fractures the mask debate has caused within the community.
“What I am afraid of is we’ll allow this thing to destroy our community,” he said. “At the end, we are still going to be together. At the end of the day, the hardest and most important problems are solved when people with different backgrounds, disciplines and lived experiences come together and work together. Really, I think this is what this meeting represents.”
LaCroix said he understands everyone wants answers, himself included.
“This is really not, to my estimation, a problem we can solve, as much as it is a dilemma we are trying to manage right now, just trying to monitor,” he said. “I know we would all like it to be a problem we can solve. But, I don’t think that is a realistic assessment, and it could be a long time before we are able to be in a position to solve that problem.”
The administration walked the board through the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated daily.
According to the dashboard, as of Wednesday, Sept. 15, the district’s infection rate sits at .95; positive student cases is at 22, with 382 students in quarantine; and seven positive teachers/staff, with 15 in quarantine; with a total of five full classrooms quarantined.
The administration did a comparison of current numbers with numbers from this time last year, which showed the district is seeing about the same number of COVID-19 positive students but has more students in quarantine.
Director of Student Services Angela Buchenauer said she thinks the reason is there are more students in schools.
“When we look at Lineville through Bay Port, we’ve doubled our enrollment on a daily basis, because last year there were only half the students there,” Buchenauer said. “We are doing the same contact tracing – it’s in that 6 feet for 15 minutes. There are more students who fall into that piece. And I think that is what I would say is our biggest reason is why those numbers are higher right now. Is because there are more kids in school, which is what we want.”
Parents, teachers and community members again filled the boardroom – equal numbers masked and unmasked – consuming more than an hour of the meeting sharing their thoughts on the district’s masking policy.
Suamico Elementary parent Michael Moran said his goal is to keep his daughter in her first-grade classroom, but said the district’s recommended masking policy isn’t helping him accomplish that.
“I’m aware that masking is not voted on due to the policy model in our district, but you guys all do have an effect on whether the district is following the science or not,” Moran said. “I am very much not pro-mask, but I’m also not anti-mask. I am pro-science, pro in-person learning. Our children do the best when they are in the classroom and not on Google Meet… The same people this district is choosing to ignore are the same people we are going to be going to if our kids get sick. I don’t understand why we are in a position where we will trust them to save our children, but we won’t trust them to help keep us safe… Honestly, almost half the school board is not wearing masks, even though we have masks recommended on the door. What is the message that sends in terms of it being recommended? I think the language is confusing, and I don’t think it is going to work. Everything we are hearing from public health officials is everyone needs to be doing it.”
Bay Port parent Jessica Hovde thanked LaCroix and the board for continuing the current masking policy.
“You are listening,” Hovde said. “You are interested in having and holding a dialogue keeping our thoughts and perspectives into consideration, which I truly, truly appreciate.”
She said one thing that keeps getting brought up is it’s just a mask.
She said for her daughter, who has asthma and struggles with migraines, it’s not just a mask.
“My daughter is enjoying school again,” Hovde said. “For the first time in far too long, my daughter hasn’t called me miserable, asking me to call her out of in-person and rush home and participate virtually because she has asthma and suffered from migraines. The continued, long-term use of masks cause her to have sensitivity to light and sound, light-headedness and a nauseating, throbbing pain that would start in her sinuses and head and affect her entire body. Some days it would only take her a few hours to start to feel better. Sometimes days. This is how masking at school affected my daughter physically.”
The board approved the final reading of a policy amendment, which could potentially give it more decision-making power during a pandemic.
The amendment affects Board/Superintendent Relations Policy 1, Unity of Control (B/SR-1), which details the relationship between the superintendent and the School Board.
Now that the board has adopted the amendment – 6-1 with Vice President Teresa Ford opposed – the next steps would be to put the topic up for a vote on an agenda.
Under the policy governance model process, the board president sets meeting agendas.
If the item is put on the agenda by the board president, both votes – the vote taken to decide whether or not the board should vote on the topic, as well as the vote on the topic itself – can happen at the same meeting.
If another member of the board requests the item be added to the agenda, the process would likely take place over two meetings.
First, this means the board would vote on whether the topic should be placed on the agenda.
If it receives a majority vote, then the topic would be placed on the following meeting’s agenda, and the two votes would be taken at that time.
The board said the intentional guardrails in place as part of the amendment are there to prevent over usage of the amendment by today’s board and boards of the future – reserving its use only during a pandemic.