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Mask mandate meets resistance at Seymour High School

By Heather Graves
Staff Writer

SEYMOUR – A move by the Seymour School District to combat a double-digit increase in positive COVID-19 cases at the high school met heavy resistance at the Tuesday, Oct. 26, School Board meeting.

When the high school reached more than 20 confirmed student COVID-19 cases, the School Board decided at a special meeting Oct. 14 to enact a two-week, temporary mask mandate for the high school, which began Oct. 18.

It was a decision Superintendent Laurie Asher said wasn’t taken lightly.

Asher said in a letter to high school families, “it is in the best interest of our students.”

Not all parents agreed.

Of the nearly four dozen community members in attendance, less than 10 wore a mask, which under the temporary mandate were required in the high school library media center, where the meeting was held, 

Close to 20 members of the public voiced opinions on the mandate with the board, with the majority opposed.

“This is the Community School District of Seymour and not the Community School District of Laurie Asher,” District parent Steve Kane said. “Half of you on the board seem to not be in favor of a face mask and half of you seem to go along with whatever she says. She does a good job at pressuring you to make these decisions, and it goes against the will of the vast majority of the people in the communities that you guys represent.”

Parent Liz Grove said it’s her job to make decisions for her kids.

“I’m the parent, I decide for my children, not you guys…,” Grove said. “I am getting so irritated with the tyranny going on in our schools. It’s ridiculous. I am trying to teach my children to stand up for themselves and do what’s right and to respect others, but it’s very hard to teach that when there is hypocrisy going on, politics in the schools and everyone is just not nice anymore. We elected you guys to work for us to hold the administration accountable. Our government is all about checks and balances.”

Some parents applauded the district’s decision.

“Many times the toughest conversations are the right conversations to have, and I know they are tricky to have and they are emotional,” Parent Jamie Wery said. “I just wanted to thank you for taking the political agenda out and thinking about the safety of our students and our staff.”

Middle School Teacher Lisa Jelenic said she’d rather see a “room full of masks, than a screen full of faces.”

Other parents expressed frustration with the board’s lack of action.

“Numbers are already double than what they were last year, more than double in the high school,” District Parent Kristina Lemke said. “We are dealing with a variant of the virus that is two-times more contagious, and yet you still stand strong in your approach to do almost nothing and hope for the best scenario this year. You continue to ignore the science and guidance of the experts to keep our children safe.”

No further discussion was taken by the board on the temporary mandate.

Only three of the seven board members attended in-person, all masked.

Trustees Kurt Peterson, Paula Rohm, Mike Cottrell and Jill Karweick attended virtually.

The temporary mandate is set to expire Friday, Oct. 29, with the optional masking policy being reinstated when students return to school Nov. 1, unless further action is taken by the board.

“At this point, we aren’t making any more recommendations,” Asher said. “The board approved masking for two weeks and that is what motion we are going on right now… It will expire Friday. And I am not bringing forward a new recommendation, other than what we presented Oct. 14, which was to mask 9-12 grade for two weeks… I think our numbers and data is showing that at this point, I don’t think that needs to be extended.”

2021-22 budget approval

The School Board approved the final 2021-22 budget, which includes a tax rate of $8.49 per $1,000 of property value – the lowest since 2008-09.

Business Manager Pete Kempen provided the board with a final overview of the budget, which calls for general fund expenditures and revenues of approximately $29.3 million, up from last year’s $28.3 million.

The approved budget includes a general fund operational levy of $5.8 million, debt services levy of $1.98 million and community service fund levy of more than $285,000 for a total tax levy of around $8.08 million, which is around $200,000 less than last year.

Kempen said an estimated $2.25 million will be transferred from the general fund to the special education fund, an increase from last year’s transfer of $2.18 million.

Seymour is projected to receive a little more than $18.2 million in state equalized aid, up from $17.5 million last year.

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