Posted 8/11/21

From Page 1 announced salary increases for staff. Hourly employees’ salaries will increase by $2 per hour, effective with fall payroll. Custodians’ pay increased by $2 per hour last February. On …

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announced salary increases for staff. Hourly employees’ salaries will increase by $2 per hour, effective with fall payroll. Custodians’ pay increased by $2 per hour last February. On the teachers’ step scale, the board approved a $200 per cell increase. Support staff and the four principals will receive an increase of 2-3 percent.

The board is making sure district salaries are within the Middle Border Conference’s 75th percentile, Spicuzza said. Adjustments for hourly employees had not been made since 2015.

Spicuzza said he’s excited for the upcoming year and the district has much for which to be grateful.

Looking at the current CDC map showing COVID infection rates across the U.S., cases are not high in Wisconsin right now, he said. But the school board and he must be ready to plan for the possibility that cases may increase.

“I am also at times very frustrated trying to navigate what I think is very difficult and sometimes counterintuitive and sometimes not coherent or aligned information coming from the CDC, from the Department of Health and also from Public Health,” Spicuzza said.

Dealing with COVID for two school years and learning to mitigate student impacts has taught educators a lot, he added.

“As someone with a doctorate in educational psychology and in public education for 25 years, our best solution for our students is to be open five days a week with out students in our schools with the highly qualified staff that we have,” Spicuzza said.

The district has added counselors, social/emotional programming and deans to mitigate student impacts. Teachers will not be asked to teach in-person and online simultaneously this year, as it’s unfair and unsustainable, Spicuzza said. Students will not have online class options this year.

However, with Delta, Alpha, Gamma and Lambda COVID variants circulating, plans can change. The district vows to keep communication open.

What’s different for fall?

“We are going to continue to start with out first plan, but we would be foolish and also arrogant to sit here and tell you that we’re not going to be prepared, that we may have to pivot based on what we’ve seen coming across,” Spicuzza said. “Our goal is we want every athletic team to be able to start and end their seasons. We want our families to be able to watch their children play in the venues inside and outside.”

One thing that didn’t exist last year at the beginning of the school year is vaccinations, he stressed.

“I understand that it’s a very personal choice for individuals and we’re not asking anybody to change that personal choice,” Spicuzza said. “What we are asking is for people to at least work with us to identify and understand and be informed. Know that we’ll give the opportunity if you so choose to be vaccinated or have a child 12 and above to be vaccinated.”

Vaccinations are currently the No. 1 safeguard against COVID, Spicuzza said. Programming options will be onsite only.

“The ability of PSD to remain open and reduce the learning disruptions of isolation/quarantine steps required, takes a partnership between staff and families,” he said. “If 90 percent of students are vaccinated in a school it will free up our time. We don’t have to worry about sending kids home, tracing.”

Prescott schools will continue to tie its policies, practices and procedures to guidance from the CDC, DHS and Pierce County Public Health. Currently, no mandates from external agencies are requiring masks indoors within school buildings. In addition, there is reduced authority over school functions, Spicuzza said.

“People ask about what resources, which doctors, which science are you looking at,” Spicuzza said. “It’s similar to making a weather prediction. There are different forecasters, different channels, different meteorologists. Sooner or later, we have to say, who are we going to follow?

“Last year, PCPH had the authority to close schools based on their determination of a district’s lack of effort, number of absences or number of infection rates within their boundaries,” Spicuzza said. “A Supreme Court ruling in Wisconsin over the summer has clarified that PCPH does not have that authority. It’s gives us more latitude to make decisions locally.”

Based on information available today, masking will be optional, Spicuzza said. Physical distancing when appropriate and hand-washing will be encouraged. Custodians will continue to deep clean.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided to all families cost-free. Access to salad bars and utensils will return. It’s proposed to bring back 4-K mid-day bussing.

Masking required on buses

According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, a CDC order requires all people using public transportation, including school buses, to wear masks. This is regardless of a school’s masking policy or whether a school is public or private.

Ramifications include fines or withholding of federal funds. If masking is not followed on buses, school districts can lose their immunity and their health insurance wouldn’t defend claims, Spicuzza said.

Masks must be worn on buses going to sporting events. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association dictates sports participation. Quarantining during the regular season will follow locals school boards’ policies; post-season play quarantining will follow PCPH guidelines.

“A vaccinated student with no COVID-like symptoms following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID does not need to quarantine or test,” Activities & Athletic Director Andrew Caudill said.

Currently in Pierce County, vaccination rates are as follows:

•Age 65-plus: 84.5 percent

•Ages 55-64: 66.4 percent

•Ages 45-54: 52.2 percent

•Ages 35-44: 46.2 percent

•Ages 25-34: 39.3 percent

•Ages 18-24: 22.4 percent

•Ages 16-17: 32.3 percent

•Ages 12-15: 21.2 percent School Board President Mike Matzek said the district is encouraging vaccines, but realizes it’s a personal choice. As far as vaccination surveys go, people’s vaccination status is kept private, Spicuzza said. The information is used by staff in knowing whether to take more precautions in classroom set-ups and distancing as some staff are immune-compromised, he added.

Matzek said contact tracing takes an enormous amount of time, so logically, the more people who are vaccinated, the less time would be spent on it.

PCPH has the authority to isolate those who test positive, Spicuzza said. While PCPH decides who quarantines, the district is required to help PCPH identify close contacts. The district is not reimbursed financially for the amount of time it spends doing this.

“Pierce County has the authority to make a legal quarantine,” Spicuzza said. “Prescott public schools does not quarantine a family.”

If someone is vaccinated, they don’t need to quarantine.

When Matzek said he’s for freedom of choice, applause erupted, which he shut down immediately.

“Please don’t clap,” Matzek said. “I support the school district encouraging vaccines but it’s ultimately the family’s choice to do. But it does help when we know if you’re vaccinated or not for mitigation purposes and time-saving efforts. I think that’s super important to help our administrators and everyone else kind of rolling with academics and probably discipline as well.”

Public comment

Before Spicuzza addressed masking and the upcoming year’s plans, a few parents Kelly Engeldinger reminded the board that masking is a CDC recommendation, not mandate. She is adamantly against masking.

“I beg you not to put that on, unless you absolutely without a doubt have to, meaning if somebody mandates it again,” Engeldinger said. “Health and education do not go hand-in-hand. I am responsible for my family’s health and you are not.”

She ended by chastising the district for sending out “political ideas,” such as vaccination availability information.

Tasslyn Magnusson, who has two children in PHS, stood up in support of the board and administration, though she was nervous.

“I believe the school administration has made the best possible decisions for our children, teachers and staff, and I’m grateful the board has supported the work of the professionals.”

It’s her hope that the board and administration will continue to make decisions using evidence-based science and look to recommendations from public health officials such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization and CDC.

“I believe their data-driven and informed experts are our best guide through this pandemic,” Magnusson said. As apparent, it’s my job to advocate for the rights of my children to feel safe at their school. That happens when there are consistent and clear decisions from leadership that use evidence-based science to guide decisions about COVID-19 plans.”

There is no harder job right now than administrators in schools have, she added.

“My family and other families are depending on you to make consistent decisions based on the best possible information from experts and scientific evidence. Your transparent leadership rooted in evidence-based science and public health, together with the school administration is the best possible way to get us through this pandemic … Your work protects my children’s right to a safe and healthy school environment.”

Allison Ennenga stepped up next, questioning the validity of COVID testing and whether positive results will be used to quarantine kids. As far as vaccinations go, she believes social distancing and masking are form of segregation and discrimination against children not being vaccinated.

“We don’t want our kids masked ever again,” Ennenga said.

At the end of the meeting, Clifton Town Board Supervisor Joe Rohl, who has six children either graduated or in the district, said he was impressed and surprised at how much the district has looked at the legal aspect of orders vs. mandates, etc. However, he said the district should not violate anyone’s civil rights or HIPAA.

“I’m going to hold you accountable,” he said. “Keep bureaucrats out of our business.”