The Baldwin-Woodville school board met for one hour Sept. 29 to discuss one item in a special meeting: The increased amount of COVID-19 cases at Viking Middle School.
The District releases new COVID-19 numbers of new and active cases every Monday and since the Sept. 27 information, there were seven new cases at Viking, stated Superintendent Eric Russell.
Russell gave his recommendation of granting the Superintendent the authority to take steps, if necessary, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, for no longer than two weeks, if cases reach certain thresholds. The Superintendent would be part of a four person committee, with the School Board President, the school nurse and another administrator being the other three people.
After a lot of discussion, which included notable moments of silence, the Board was deadlocked on a 3-3 vote for that recommendation (John Hanson was absent). The other motions, which included going virtual or masks, died for a lack of second, meaning no action was taken.
The thresholds, Russell explained, were 6% of student absences, 10% of staff absences and 20% total absences per building. The number of Viking staff which were absent as of the meeting would’ve met the threshold, Russell said.
Besides his recommendation, Russell said one of the options was to continue what the District was doing, which he didn’t believe was the best option due to the possibility of cases increasing. Other options included going back to masks or virtual learning.
“No decision will make everyone happy,” Russell said.
After Russell’s explanation, Board member Jay Larson disagreed, stating his biggest issue was giving the Superintendent that amount of power.
Noting the number of people sitting in the Performing Arts Center, Larson said, “This is a remarkable turnout. They’re showing us they want us to make the decision. I’m thankful you want to take this on (addressing Russell), but I feel it should be our decision.”
Board member Denise Monicken echoed Larson’s opinion, stating Board members were elected to make decisions like this.
“It’s our responsibility,” she said. She also expressed her doubts about virtual learning, asking “is teaching virtual better if there are eight kids in the classroom compared to 12?”
After additional debate and the motions dying for a lack of second, Russell’s recommendation was defeated as Ken Dykhouse joined Larson and Monicken voting ‘no’, while Jolene Bonte, Todd Graf and Brad Coplan voted ‘yes.’
The special meeting was called as the District got back survey results from parents and staff about COVID-19.
Over 940 parents and 190 staff responded to questions such as does the current plan need to be changed? For parents, 58% said no, while 42% said yes. For staff members, the numbers were 62% yes and 38% no.
The second question was should masks be required. Three hundred ninety-five responded to that question for parents with nearly 83% saying yes. That percentage was identical among staff members.
If one voted yes, they were asked for how long. The answers for parents split with 39% saying for the rest of the school year, 23% until the vaccine is available for those five years and older. Staff members broke along the same lines with 34% for the rest of the year and 28% until the vaccine is available for five years and older.
Nearly 54% of parents believed teaching virtually for 7 to 10 days would help instead of going with masks. Fifty-nine percent of staff agreed. The final question was should the District implement the mitigation strategies from last year (masks, limiting the number of students on a bus). Nearly 55% of parents said yes. Nearly 54% of staff said no.
The District reported Oct. 4 it had 20 new confirmed COVID-19 cases with eight at Viking, seven at Greenfield and five at the high school. Active cases were at 21 Districtwide.
That total is the lowest in the four weeks the District has been recording the numbers. The previous three weeks saw 26, 44 and 33 new cases.