Ashwaubenon to make Masks optional Jan. 3
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – With COVID-19 vaccinations now available for children ages 5-11, the Ashwaubenon School District will switch from requiring masks for students and staff in grades 4K-6 to making them “highly recommended” or optional Jan. 3, when classes resume after winter break.
Last month, the Ashwaubenon School Board backed discontinuing the mask mandate in those grades six weeks after the vaccinations became available for younger students.
The board agreed with Superintendent Kurt Weyers Nov. 10, when he recommended holding off on the switch until after the break.
“Bellin started (Nov. 5) with giving vaccinations to 5-11-year-olds, and Prevea started (Nov.8),” he said. “If you go six weeks out, that really would put us at Monday, Dec. 20, and our last day before the winter break is Wednesday, Dec. 22.”
Weyers said he recommended holding off on ending the mask mandate until January, because it doesn’t make sense to make the change a few days before winter break starts.
Masks are currently optional for students and staff in grades 7-12, who have been eligible to be vaccinated for a while.
Work release credits
High School Principal Dirk Ribbens informed the board at-risk seniors falling behind in earning enough credits to graduate during the pandemic will have the option this school year to complete up to six elective credits for work release.
“One of the things we’ve discovered in the last year and a half with COVID is a number of our most at-risk students, while struggling in school, were actually picking up additional hours at jobs – in many cases, frankly, paying the rent, paying the bills, paying (for) the food for their parents,” he said. “While that left some students credit-deficient, as we worked with them and look at who they are and what they’re developing into, we’re convinced that the experience of that kind of work, taking care of family, is life experience that is something you can’t learn in the classroom, and in many cases, absolutely valuable.”
In addition, Ribbens said seniors may retroactively receive up to two work credits from their junior year.
“That helps them graduate, and it helps recognize and sort of codify their work and learning experiences that they have,” he said.
Ribbens said jobs where work credits may be earned must provide legitimate pay stubs with deductions for taxes.
“We certainly prefer any work with students to get jobs within their career area,” he said. “But as you know, the last couple of years have been tricky for that. In many cases, we found that students with a lot of the retail, fast-food kinds of jobs that they qualify for were deemed essential employees. So, while their parents in many cases were laid off or furloughed, the students were able to pick up additional hours.”
Weyers said Ashwaubenon’s requirement of 28 credits to graduate is “much higher than most school districts in the state and certainly most school districts in our area.”
“We did not want to lower that bar,” he said. “Some school districts have chosen to lower the amount of credits to help out with COVID. We felt that this was a much more creative and more meaningful way, rather than to lower the bar.”
The board approved a recommendation from Business Director Keith Lucius to carry over $162,229 in unused school building budgets from 2020-21 to the current school year.
Those unused budget amounts include $40,341 from Cormier School and Early Learning Center, $14,418 from Pioneer Elementary School, $45,822 from Valley View Elementary School, $42,789 from Parkview Middle School and $18,859 from Ashwaubenon High School.
Lucius said carrying over those budgets allows the school buildings to plan for larger equipment and larger furniture needs, because there is no equipment budget.
“It’s to give the buildings some sense of control and avoiding that spend-it-or-lose-it mentality,” he said. “If staff know if we save this money, it will help us save for something else. We’ve used this for 22 years now. It’s worked really well.”
Lucius said the increase in the amount carried over from 2020-21 had a lot to do with expenditures planned for staff training not happening because of the pandemic.
He said each building principal has a plan on what to do with the unused funds, such as remodeling at Cormier and Pioneer not included in the $10.05 million facility improvement referendum district voters approved in April 2020.