Gives supt. authority to make temp closing decisions PRESCOTT – The Prescott School Board voted 5-0 to approve the key factors which could result in school, classroom or grade closures, at a …
Gives supt. authority to make temp closing decisions
PRESCOTT – The Prescott School Board voted 5-0 to approve the key factors which could result in school, classroom or grade closures, at a special board meeting Sept. 29. These factors are related to the possibility that the district would be unable to provide ongoing, high-quality instruction to its students due to COVID-19’s impact.
The board also unanimously agreed to give the superintendent the authority to close a classroom, grade level or school based on an emergency situation (COVID included) that’s in the best interest of student and staff safety. The decision would be aided by but not limited to the district’s monitoring protocols and key factors for maintaining safety.
If an outbreak occurs within a classroom, grade level or building due to high rates of positive COVID-19 results, the district will pause onsite school attendance to stop the spread for up to five consecutive school days before a special school board meeting is called. Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza will have the final say on a closure after consulting with building administrators.
Spicuzza said school has closed for many reasons besides COVID-19, such as weather events, busted pipes or LP tank fires. However, school
See SCHOOL. BOARD, Page 12 closings don’t always have to be due to external variables.
Some factors that may cause a closure include, but are not limited to:
•The ability to staff classrooms with licensed teachers as the sub pool is tight.
•The ability to have teacher aides available to assist with classroom supervision and instructional support for regular and special education students.
•The ability to staff transportation (buses) and food service departments.
•An outbreak in a classroom, grade level or building, or a high rate of COVID cases or other illnesses (equates to 35 percent absent).
The 35 percent is a benchmark used in previous decisions, such as a flu outbreak.
“The warning signals since the beginning of the school year have increased,” Spicuzza said.
Since August, Pierce County’s level of transmission has moved from Low to High when it comes to the number of positive COVID cases.
When making closure decisions, the district will consider:
•Incidence growth rate: How many are getting infected per 100,000 people per day on a weekly basis (the speed at which the virus is spreading through uninfected people).
•Infection growth rate: The exponential rate at which COVID cases are increasing or decreasing.
Having a set matrix in place to trigger closures or increased mitigation efforts, such as masking, is difficult because no one knows how fast infection rates will increase or decrease. It’s not like a hurricane, where a weather report gives ample warning.
“Prescott has been quite blessed,” Spicuzza said. “We’ve dodged the bullet compared to districts around us.”
As of Sept. 24, PSD had seven active COVID cases, with a total of 20 that week, Spicuzza said. In the district, 90 percent of staff are vaccinated. In the county, 55.2 percent of those eligible are vaccinated.
The district has 12 people in its sub pool. Of those, four refuse to sub at the elementary school, two will not sub at the middle school and one does not want to sub at the high school. Half of subs refuse to work Fridays, and some are available only for certain subjects, Spicuzza said.
“Staff have done a remarkable job in giving up prep hours to cover,” Spicuzza added.
As for bus drivers, the district has two subs. Lack of bus drivers is a national epidemic, even with offers of bonuses and higher salaries. Spicuzza said many districts across the country have had to call families at 6 a.m. to tell families their bus isn’t coming that day due to last-minute absences.
Sept. 22 is the first time all Prescott High School staff were present. Principal Josh Fiege has been covering sometimes multiple periods daily since the beginning of the year. Principal Kyle Igou has done the same at the middle school.
“That can be sustained for a short period of time, but not long-term,” Spicuzza said.
Decisions to close any or part of a building, classroom or grade level are always done in partnership between the administrative team, supervisors and school nurses. Pierce County Public Health is often consulted as well. The building principals have a lot of say in the decision-making.
“They’re closer to the school, their staff and the students,” Spicuzza said. “Ultimately, I do have to make the decision that I feel is justified and in the best interest of the health and safety of our staff and students.”
After those decisions are made, the superintendent will inform staff and families. Closures are inevitable if COVID case numbers continue to increase, Spicuzza predicted.
If the district doesn’t have enough bus drivers, it will staff the required country and hazard zone routes first. In-town families might be notified the night before or the morning of if a bus will not be running. If a mass outbreak occurs, routes will revert to the 2020-21 bus schedule.
As for food services, Food Services Director Maggie Schmidt and three subs can cover shifts, in addition to shifting personnel between sites. If a staffing shortage occurs, the menus will be reduced to lower the amount of prep time needed. As a last resort, the kitchen will provide bag lunches and create a central kitchen.
One concern is having enough state-required instructional minutes, if it gets to a point where non-licensed staff are covering classes. Another concern is the strain put on teachers who are giving up their prep hours to cover classes. This takes away time they use to prepare lessons, tutor students and communicate with parents.
“Just because you might be able to cover something doesn’t mean that that’s it, right, we’ve got a body in that space,” board member Tanya Holub said. “We’re still not able to always provide the quality instruction.”
Holub asked if there’s any chance of returning to mitigation strategies, such as mandatory masking, before taking the step of having to close classes, buildings or grade levels.
Spicuzza said hand sanitizer is offered at the doors, buses are sanitized between routes, and classes are held outdoors whenever possible. Holub she’d like to discuss adding more mitigation back into the equation so things wouldn’t have to be shut down.
No matter what, staffing prioritization will be to keep 4K through fifth grade students in school because it’s difficult for them to learn at home. Spicuzza said the Department of Public Instruction says PHS and PMS cannot do hybrid learning because it’s too much on teachers.
School Board President Mike Matzek described the plan as pragmatic and common-sense.
“It’s a plan that yes, it’s driven because of COVID, but it’s really a plan that’s probably been in everybody’s head, as far as if something were to happen, we would have to make split decisions to do drastic things,” Matzek said.
Spicuzza said the district has some vulnerable areas it’s hoping to fortify, such as hiring three more teacher aides and a night custodian.
Also a possibility, not related to COVID, are virtual snow days. This would allow classes to get in the required number of instructional minutes without extending the school year.
No matter the plan, the district is committed to providing ongoing access to curriculum, Spicuzza said. Work will be provided in hard copy or technology formats such as SeeSaw, Google Classroom or Infinite Campus, for any intermittent closure. Virtual learning would not require seven hours per day (like in-person), but would by asynchronous. This means learning at one’s own pace in a certain timeframe.
“So the asynchronous part is, it doesn’t have to be the exact same activity as what we’re doing in the classroom,” Intermediate Principal Michael Kosmalski said. “It needs to be related to the same standards. It needs to have the same expectations of, how are you showing that you’re meeting those expectations or not.”
The DPI wants to minimize student screen time (less than one hour per day for elementary, no more than four hours per day for higher grades), Kosmalski added.
Before the board made these decisions, four people stepped up to the mic for public comment.
Town of Clifton resident and former write-in school board candidate Ken Anderson asked the board and district to focus on educating kids and “stop trying to be health advisors and a health safety board.”
He said the district needs to focus on the number zero.
“According to today’s numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Public Health, without comorbidity, zero children in Wisconsin have died from COVID,” Anderson said. “Three kids have died with COVID.”
He called the three deaths “tragic,” but said the three had “severe pre-existing conditions that are listed as comorbidity.” Zero children ages zero to 19 have died of COVID alone, he said.
“Yet tragically, our community has had children die of things other than COVID,” Anderson said. “Is the school doing anything to solve these? If kids get sick with COVID, kids recover. Many of these kids would not even have known they were infected or became cases without being tested. Zero.”
PCPH and the CDC has said that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus to other, possibly more vulnerable individuals without even knowing they’re carrying it.
Anderson said the school nurse should not have the authority to make kids stay home for 10 days unless they’re “subjected” to a COVID test or pay to see a doctor, because they don’t have the authority to diagnose student illnesses. He also questioned the number of Prescott football players to had to follow this protocol to play football last Friday (Sept. 24) after, according to Anderson, more than a dozen were sick that week. “Are we following the same protocol for everyone? Zero chance. Zero,” Anderson said.
The zero theme continued, with comments ranging from people’s mask-wearing habits to vaccination status to school liability.
“You seriously need to take a hands-off approach because if you do not, if you continue to step on our rights, we have a very powerful legal defense organization that has almost unlimited resources standing by, waiting for decisions that trample our rights to be put into action and then we will litigate to the fullest,” Anderson promised.
He chastised the board for having a COVID testing site in the high school building (which is separate from the school proper and accessed through a vestibule door).
“How does your brain justify this line of thinking?” Anderson asked. “For convenience? Do you want to bring every sick person in our community into our school for COVID testing, so as not to inconvenience those who may become another case for your numbers? Maybe we should have them stay at the nursing home a day or two before we test them.”
He ended his comments with a pointed threat for action against board members.
“Zero chance any of you will be re-elected or survive recall campaigns, be held accountable. Zero chance any referendum is not dead on arrival as you are already told by the survey you have ignored. Mess around and find out. We’re done debating,” Anderson said.
District residents Kawena Thompson and Joe Rohl asked for transparency related to the district’s PCR testing location in PHS. She is concerned about security measures, such as metal detectors for active shooters, or people with a criminal background coming for testing. Rohl was also worried about the security aspect.
Resident Tasslyn Magnuson thanked the board for providing a testing site in town.
“The opportunity to have on-site testing will make a significant difference to my family and many others,” she said. “You’ve given us a tool through which we can make informed decisions about how to care for our kids.”
She admitted that she’s sent kids to school with symptoms in the past, due to daycare or work concerns.
“That was wrong and endangered other kids, whether my kid gave another kid a cold or the flu, no matter how light the illness, thinking about only our needs isn’t enough in normal times, and it really isn’t enough in COVID times.”
Magnuson said whether or not to test a child is a family’s decision; however, whether or not to send a sick kid to school with a possible infection is not.
“If you hope by leaving masks only recommended, you will appease some community members, “I’m here to respectfully suggest that you’re missing the forest for the trees,” Magnuson said.
Lastly, former PHS school counselor Steve Peterson apologized for not speaking up sooner and more often. He and wife Penny have four children in the district.
“I left Prescott in part because I needed to work for a superintendent who I felt I could trust and respect, and who I felt trusted and respected me,” Peterson said. “For my interactions, I feel many of the staff who have recently left and many who are still here share those feelings. Trust is one of the most powerful beliefs an individual or community can offer schools and obviously, that is one of the reasons that people are here tonight.
“I hope eventually these meetings can focus on how to rebuild that trust in our communities and our schools and not the political quagmire that COVID has become.
“Remember the comments (Anderson’s) about how children are not dying of COVID? They are. Here in Wisconsin. ‘They must’ve had other conditions.’ How sad that you value the children based on that.”
Peterson thanked Spicuzza and the board for listening to science while trying to allow children freedom and protection.
“Please continue to do what you have done.” Peterson said. “You have my trust and appreciation. Follow science.”