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Howard-Suamico School Board could soon have more say

By Heather Graves
Staff Writer

SUAMICO – The School Board could soon have more authority with pandemic-related decisions.

At the Monday, Nov. 15, School Board meeting, Howard-Suamico Superintendent Damian LaCroix stood by his decision to “stay the course” and continue required masks for grades K-6 until the end of the semester, Jan. 21.

“That gives that age group, and those families time to access the vaccination, that is the basis,” LaCroix said. 

However, not everyone on the board agreed.

With LaCroix as the decision-making authority in Howard-Suamico’s policy governance model, the board has remained relatively quiet on its opinions of the current masking policy, something it was criticized for earlier in the meeting.

“I am a Howard-Suamico resident, parent and taxpayer, I am part of the public that voted each of you into your positions,” Parent Karen Tooley said. “I did not vote for (Superintendent) Damian (LaCroix). I did not vote for Prevea, and I did not vote for this medical health advisory team. I voted for you. So tonight, I am asking you to take a vote on ending the masking now, versus waiting until January. Whatever you vote, you vote. You might agree with me, and you might disagree with me. But we have a right to know, all your constituents here, have a right to know where you stand today. That is the least you can do for the community that elected you.”

Board Member Vanessa Moran said it isn’t the board’s personal opinions that matter, but rather those of the community.

“I went to the (Bay Port High School ‘Peter Pan’) play on Friday night,” Moran said. “We had front-row seats and I actually turned around and started counting heads of how many people had on masks… It was Peter Pan, so lots of little kids, lots of grandparents and everyone in between, and I don’t know how many people were there, 400, 500, and I couldn’t even count 50 wearing masks, and four of those were me, my husband and my two children. I feel in some ways that this is an anecdotal survey of what the community is pulling for… We are giving an option to those people who want to wait to have access to the vaccine, but we are not giving an option to people who do not want masks on their children’s faces, and that is what I’m struggling with.”

Board Vice President Teresa Ford said anecdotes can be found on either side of the argument.

“There is anecdotal evidence (for wearing masks, too)… I am seeing it,” she said.

Possible survey

The board discussed the possiblity of a survey to gauge the community’s opinions.

However, LaCroix said he’s unsure of the effectiveness of a survey with one question.

“Maybe we would want to poll on other things… together in a survey that would give a better sense of how things are going,” he said.

Moran said the simpler, the better.

“I know it’s not good practice to send a one-question survey, but with this, I think, more questions makes it overly complicated and people are less likely to take it…,” she said. “This is the singular issue we are trying to target… There’s got to be a way to get viable data, because I do hear the board is split in their own personal experiences in what they are seeing.”

LaCroix questioned what survey results would warrant change.

“The question becomes if it’s 51-49% in favor or against, will that be a majority to affect a decision?” he said. “What is the threshold – 45-55, 60-40? I am just trying to play that out… Everything else we’ve seen, every other election it’s been extremely close. It is a 51-49% world. So, if 51% say we support wearing masks until Jan. 21, is that enough for the board? We have to play it out to its logical conclusion.”

LaCroix said administration will continue to discuss a potential survey.

Decision-making policy

LaCroix said he stands behind his decision to continue masks until Jan. 21.

“My personal recommendation, I think it reflects the process up to this point, too, is to stay the course…,” he said. “The board also reserves the right to operationalize B/SR-1 (Board/Superintendent Relations Policy 1, Unity of Control), that is why you put that in place, so that is another option in front of the board for consideration.”

If the board votes to invoke the recently added subsection to B/SR-1, it would give it more of a say in pandemic-related decisions in collaboration with LaCroix.

While some present in the audience called for the board to vote then and there, under the Howard-Suamico’s policy governance model, that wasn’t possible.

Under the model, the board president sets meeting agendas with planning for the Dec. 13 meeting starting Thursday, Nov. 18.

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, the board would vote on whether the topic should be placed on the agenda.

If it received 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.

This would push a final decision out to the January meeting.

Director of Communications Brian Nicol said the final agenda for the December meeting will be available the Thursday before the meeting.

Upset parents

Tooley, as well as other speakers, called out LaCroix for comments he allegedly wrote recently in an email response to a member of VOICE for Choice, a parent-led advocacy group in Howard-Suamico.

“In the letter you wrote, ‘I have recently visited classrooms and our students are managing this minor inconvenience quite well,’” she said. “I am sure there are some children who are fine, but I am curious, are you also able to detect the child who is suicidal by a classroom visit? Can you spot the child who has no friends, and is struggling to make new friends because they can’t see an encouraging smile? What about the child that has trouble pronouncing words right, but is happily coloring a picture? Can you tell me the child who 10 years from now will be scared to leave home because germs are everywhere? What an amazing superpower you would have to have to be able to detect all of that by a classroom visit.”

District parent Jessica Hovde called the comments LaCroix allegedly made, “ignorant.”

“Mental health issues are oftentimes silent and invisible to the naked eye, especially when you are covering two-thirds of the face from being seen,” Hovde said. “How are you to know if the child is afraid to be honest, or doesn’t know how to express how they are feeling, because they don’t understand it themselves?”

Parent Jennifer Grant said if the board is unsure of the community’s opinion regarding masking, she suggested looking around.

“Look at stores, craft fairs, plays, football games,” Grant said. “I’ve heard, ‘It’s only 31 school days. It’s not just 31 school days.’ It’s been an entire year last year and two months so far this year. It is not just 31 days when parents are seeing their kids’ social and emotional well-being affected… My son who was in your district for two years, loved school the first year. Second year, he told me he didn’t want to go to school, and couldn’t tell me why. He was 6. He is now in a school with masks optional and loves school again. I was able to get him out of this district.”

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