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School board holds Impact Aid, Indian education hearing

During its annual Impact Aid hearing Monday, Dec. 20, at LCO Ojibwe College, the Hayward Community Schools Board received kudos from several Lac Courte Oreilles tribal members for school district efforts to reach out to the Native community.

Supt. Craig Olson said the Hayward school district received $863,224 in federal Impact Aid last year and so far this year has received $457,427. This is money the district receives in lieu of taxes on federal lands. Impact Aid applies to students living on tribal lands and/or whose parents parents work for the tribe or federal agencies. The money goes into the district's general fund to provide all children with the same educational opportunities.

As of Sept. 17, 2021, the total number of students enrolled in the Hayward Community Schools was 1,919. The number of Native American students was 356, or 19% of the total.

The district receives a Title 6 Indian Education grant of $214,207, which is used to pay the salaries, benefits, travel and supplies for the three tribal-school liaisons: Shane Ewert, Susan Taylor and Kim Lambert.

The district contributes an additional $13,968 from its general fund. The district Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee decides how this money is spent.

Board President Linda Plante said the tribal-school liaisons make hundreds of contacts with Native students and parents each month.

Lorraine Gouge, LCO Tribal Governing Board vice-chairwoman and a former Hayward Schools staff member, said these home-school coordinators "are very strongly needed" and provide "a lot of service for our people," in support of their academic, social and emotional needs.

Gouge added that the Hayward schools only have one academic tutor now, at the high school, and there are two unfilled tutor positions. There are very few applicants for these jobs, which are funded by the LCO Tribe. An Ojibwe language teacher also is needed and is very important, she added.

Olson said he meets once a month with the LCO Tribal Governing Board to discuss "a plethora of topics." The district employs two social workers, who help to provide more support for students than in the past, he added.

"We lost a lot of ground last year due to the pandemic and are trying to catch up," Olson added. Tutors are available to help students before and after the regular school day.

Michelle Beaudin said, "In this community there have been more than 80 drug dose deaths," which impacts many closely-knit families.

Rose Barber, a former Hayward School Board member, said parents and grandparents "feel listened to and supported by the school staff. If a child is having a difficult time, it's good to know that there is somebody who will listen and help them."

Referendum

The board on Monday also tweaked ballot language for the April 5 comprehensive facilities referendum. The board will approve the final ballot for publication on Jan. 17. The draft ballot may be viewed on the district website under "Board Docs."

Board Finance Committee chairman Dr. Harry Malcolm said the district's financial consultant Baird anticipates the $49.7 million facilities referendum on April 5, 2022, will have a maximum tax impact of 64 cents per $1,000 of property value for the 2022-23 year.

Malcolm added that the district's annual mill rate (tax rate per $1,000 of property value) has been falling slowly. This year it was $6.17 compared to $6.51 in 2015-16. Next year it would be $6.81 if the facilities referendum passes, depending on property value.

The finance committee received the annual audit as required by state and federal guidelines. The audit was prepared by Bauman Associates Ltd. of Eau Claire. "We received a clean audit report," Malcolm said.

Recently the governor announced that the Hayward school district would receive an additional $134 per pupil in federal coronavirus relief funds, a total of $233,338.

The district plans to use this money for increased pay for substitute staff, plus supplies.

Actions taken

In other action Monday, the board:

• Approved the request of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) to use school facilities during Birkie Week Feb. 22-25. The Birkie operates a ski expo at the high school.

• Extended COVID-related time off policy for affected school staff through June 30, 2022.

• Approved a leave of absence from Jan. 3 to May 6 for primary school teacher's aide Anna Metcalf. That will allow her to complete her student teaching in order to get her license.

• Accepted the resignations of Shannon Judy as sixth grade academic coach and Kate Walker, eighth grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher.

• Voted to hire Karen Duffy as high school English teacher. She recently taught in the Northwood School District at Minong.

• Voted to hire Karen Blinkwolt as early childhood special education aide.

• Voted to hire Amy Dieckman as mental health navigator.

• Received a COVID update from Olson, who noted while the number of COVID cases in the county has been rising, "things are going well" in the schools. "We are keeping the doors open."

The district website has a COVID dashboard showing the up-to-date numbers of cases and quarantines among students and staff.

Malcolm said that "We have seen more flu cases than COVID in kids" recently. "I'm looking forward to Christmas vacation," he added.

Olson said the recent increase in substitute staff pay and marketing campaign has had a "big impact" in helping to get new, high-quality people to serve in those positions.

Olson also reported on the recent uproar over vague threats of violence to schools nationwide posted on the Tik Tok social media site. Also said the one positive thing that came out of the incident is that "people feel comfortable to say something. I couldn't be more proud" of how parents, staff and local law enforcement worked together to address this issue, he said.

Donations

The board took note of several recent donations to the district:

• On behalf of the Hayward Music Boosters, Darrin White and Sandy Johnson presented $10,000 in matching funds to the district for music needs: $5,000 for prior year equipment purchase and $5,000 for 2021-22 music needs.

• The Intermediate School received donations of hats and gloves from Kathleen Bockmeyer.

• The Intermediate School received a donation of winter clothing from Carolyn Christopherson.

• Tally Ho Supper Club catered and donated 135 meals for a sixth grade Fall Feast. Several Tally Ho staff members, as well as volunteers and friends of the restaurant, served each of the sixth grade homerooms. Students were served sandwiches, homemade mashed potatoes, sweet potato mash, stuffing and brown gravy.

• The board approved two new $1,250 scholarships for 2022-23 in memory of Fred Nelson, co-founder of Nelson Lumber and Home. One scholarship will be given for a student pursuing a degree in business or finance and another for a student entering vocational school and the trades.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Social_service
Headley named First Responder of the Year

Chris Headley was honored as First Responder of the Year for the 87th Assembly District by Rep. James Edming in a ceremony with family and friends at Hayward City Hall Friday, Dec. 17.

Headley was recognized for 42 years of service to Sawyer County as a first responder, working with the local fire, police and emergency services departments.

Mayor Charlie Munich said when it came to nominating a first responder for this district, "there (was) only one person in mind ... and that was Chris Headley."

Munich added that there are other many deserving first responders in the community, but Headley stood out for his years of service, not just in emergency response but coming into town to help plow, pulling vehicles out of ditches, assisting the diving team with rescues and many other ways of helping the community.

"That's just phenomenal," Munich said. "He's like johnny on the spot."

Edming (R-Glen Flora) presented Headley with a plaque denoting his recognition in the district as the 2021 Hometown Hero. Edming said Headley served with distinction for decades, coordinating with other emergency response units and arriving first on the scene. He noted that Headley was responsible for personally saving the lives of two ice fishermen.

Edming said the state first responder award ceremony was held earlier this year in Madison, "and guess where (Headley) was? He was hunting."

Therefore, Edming added, he came to Hayward to personally recognize Headley.

Town of Hayward Fire Chief Mike Herrmann spoke about Headley's service.

"He never shuts his radio off at night," Herrmann said.

Headley said he became a first responder in 1979, for the Town of Bass Lake, where he lives, as the town was looking for volunteer firefighters.

"I thought, I'll go for it," he said. "I've been here ever since."

Headley recalled one of his responses one spring, helping the Lac Courte Oreilles emergency responders looking for a body in the lake. Headley and the dive team spent 831 hours searching for the body, "every day, all day, weekends."

"I don't think the general public has a clue what you folks do," Edming said.

Sawyer County Sheriff Doug Mrotek said Headley is humble and committed.

"We all greatly appreciate your commitment and service," Mrotek said.


Sport
Hudson, Massachusetts, wins Main Street contest

You could almost hear a drumroll on Monday, Dec. 20, as the America's Main Streets contest announced the winner of its 2021 national contest, called "Road to Recovery." Would it be Hayward?

Alas, the winner was Hudson, Massachusetts, a considerably larger city with a population of 20,000.

Main Street Hayward made the Top 10 in the national contest, in itself a notable achievement, but came up short in the online voting.

Independent We Stand, which organized the event, said more than 1 million votes were cast in the online contest, which began in October with over 200 nominations.

The organizer recognizes only the highest vote-getter as the winner and does not give secondor third-place awards. When asked how many votes Main Street Hayward attracted in the online voting, which allowed up to 25 consecutive votes from one computer address, the organizer would not disclose that information.

In announcing the winner, America Main Streets said Hudson had "rallied its vast network of 85 property owners, partners at Hudson Business Association and the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce, and their community to vote in support of its entry." Located west of Boston, the city has a population of 20,092.

At 2,500 population, Hayward was the smallest city in the final 10. Reaching the finals was itself noteworthy, as Hayward was competing against cities the likes of Hudson and several others with populations of 20,000 or more.

Winning the national competition would have been another way to celebrate the downtown's rebound from early 2020, when Main Street was virtually shut down because of major construction and COVID restrictions, to experiencing a surge of activity in the summers of 2020 and 2021.

Along with a strong showing at the cash registers, the downtown has sported new enthusiasm and creativity expressed by murals, bike racks, benches, a piano for public playing, a kiosk and more — making it a worthy candidate for a "Road to Recovery" recognition.

Even though Hayward's Main Street did not win, the competition galvanized a lot of support for the downtown as people from around the county, and even those from around the state and country with any connection to the city, voted for the smallest entry in the national competition.

"While we're certainly disappointed in not winning the entire contest, it actually doesn't diminish how proud we are of our Main Street and how grateful we are to all those that voted throughout the contest for Hayward," said Chris Ruckdaschel, executive director of the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce, which nominated the downtown for the contest. "It appears we were the smallest community to make the Top 10, and it's remarkable how much our community spirit made up for our smaller population."

He added, "We really do want to express our sincere thanks to those that gave such great support. It is the people that makes our community such a special place."

This was fifth year Main Street Hayward had participated and the second year it has made it to the semifinals, the Top 10.


Police
From classroom talk to handgun photo, police find no threat stirred by social media

What started off as a discussion in a Hayward classroom on Monday, Dec. 13, and a reported comment made a year ago, evolved into a threat circulating over social media the following day. Then Tuesday morning, Dec. 14, a photo of a handgun on social media was the final straw for some parents who pulled their kids out of school, in spite of a heavy presence of law enforcement in the schools.

Then just a few days later, on Friday, Dec 17, law enforcement again were present around Hayward and other county school districts because of a national threat to schools posted on the social medium TikTok.

In both occurrences law enforcement and school officials responded out of abundance of caution, even though there was no substantive evidence to substantiate a threat.

When school shootings crowd the headlines, such as the recent shooting in Oxford, Michigan, where a 15-year-boy brought a pistol to school and killed four classmates, threats have to be taken seriously because no one wants to be responsible for missing red flags and allowing another tragedy to unfold.

But the other side of the equation is law enforcement officers are spending considerable hours chasing down supposed threats that turn out to be rumors that evolve from misunderstanding, miscommunication and possible deliberate attempts to stir controversy over social media.

Hayward Police Chief Joel Clapero said he understands social media can be a great way to raise awareness quickly, and might even be a deterrent to a possible school shooting, but he would prefer that those with concerns, either students or parents, talk directly to school officials or law enforcement or both to investigate whether threats are credible or whether, as in the situations last week, they stem from unsubstantiated claims.

Monday

Around 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, an officer from the Hayward Police Department received a complaint from a concerned citizen and a school administrator of posts on social media about a student who would come to school the next day and "shoot it up." Police officers began to investigate and spoke to five or six students. The officers concluded there had been a class discussion that day about the school shooting in Oxford and one of the students mentioned that a year ago another student, allegedly, made a comment about "shooting up the school."

Chief Clapero said that during the investigation he learned the school administration had investigated the comment a year ago and did not find the threat credible. When Clapero talked to the student who allegedly made the comment, the student denied making any threat to the school and added his comments from the year before had been misinterpreted.

But somehow the discussion from the classroom evolved into a serious concern the following day.

"As far as we can tell, no one in the classroom on Monday (Dec. 13) said anything about a student bringing a gun to school the following day, but apparently someone interpreted the conversation in the classroom that this (a school shooting) is happening tomorrow," Clapero said.

Tuesday

Overnight it was concluded there was no credible threat to the schools, but Clapero decided on Tuesday, the following day, to deploy a couple of officers at each school just to be safe. City of Hayward police officers were assisted by Sawyer County deputies to monitor the schools.

"We wanted to calm people down because we did (get) a lot of calls overnight and people were concerned about sending their kids to school," he said.

Supt. Craig Olson said some parents who were not too concerned about the social media posts on Monday night became concerned when they dropped their kids off at school Tuesday morning and noticed the police.

"We had the police there to reassure people, but some chose to see it as validating concerns over social media," Olson said.

And just when it appeared the officers had addressed the fears being expressed over social media, around 9 a.m., a photo taken from the social medium Snap Chat appeared of a handgun on the floor of what appeared to be a bathroom. The sharing of that image stirred more concerns.

"The photo was being shared mostly amongst students, and I think they started sharing it with parents," Clapero said. "It was a handgun in what looked like a bathroom, like a washroom of a commercial-type building, the kind of floor you might see in a business or school, and somehow that turned into that this was in the Hayward school and many assumed it was the high school."

Olson said he was preparing to release a statement about the previous night's investigation to relieve concerns when a student brought a photo of the handgun to administrators that had also been circulated by students.

Law enforcement asked school janitors if the tile on the floor in the photo matched any bathrooms in the schools. The answer was no.

However, that photo was the final straw for many parents, who pulled their kids from school.

Olson said he delayed sending out a statement until the photo could be investigated. It turned out the image being circulated came from an incident the week before in Utah.

Clapero believes a student found the photo over the internet and began sharing it on social media. Then other students shared it and eventually parents were seeing the image. Officers talked to 10 to 15 students and to several parents of the students.

"We talked to a bunch of kids, but we were never really able to ascertain who began sharing the photo," said Clapero, "and when we asked why they were sharing they said they thought it pertained to Hayward. They couldn't really give us a good reason why they posted it instead of coming to a school administrator or law enforcement, but once they started sharing it there was no stopping it."

He added, "It ended up just being a hoax, but I think most people were posting in good faith thinking there really was an issue."

Olson said it appears the concern over what was said in class on Dec. 13 evolved through miscommunication, from one person talking to another and not fully understanding what had been said. But he believes whoever began sharing the photo of the handgun on Dec. 14 did that deliberately to stir up concerns.

No regrets

Clapero said it was good that parents called and he doesn't regret investigating possible threats, but also feels troubled that what turned out to be false information stirred up so much concern over social media.

"We appreciate the information we got, but there has to be a better way to address concerns," he said. "We told students to talk to parents, talk to school administrators, talk to law enforcement instead of putting stuff on social media without knowing for sure if it is true and then it blows up. And obviously if the threat is credible we are going to talk to school officials and at a minimum ask that they lockdown, if it is really credible, or not have school that day. But never during our investigation, from Monday and Tuesday, led us to believe that there was a credible threat. There was just nothing there to point to any threat to the community."

Olson mirrors Clapper's sentiments. "We're very lucky in this community that law enforcement and the school district staff take every one of these, even rumored threats, very seriously," he said, "but social media is going to do what social media does. We are not going to put out any statements on anything until it's factual and accurate."

The Sawyer County Record posted a question on Facebook that included a description of the "unnecessary burden" created for law enforcement chasing down social media rumors. One reader took offense with the description and said officers have an obligation to investigate.

Clapero agrees officers do have an obligation to investigate, but he also says it does create a burden for local law enforcement agencies that are stretched thin with not a lot of officers available.

"We have seven officers for the city providing seven-day-a-week service with one officer always on duty," he said. "We were involved with this investigation from 8 p.m. Monday night to 1 p.m. Tuesday and we had sheriff's deputies helping us because we were taking this seriously."

One criticism lodged over the incident is why didn't the school or city police post something sooner to advise that there was no credible threat. Clapero said neither the school nor law enforcement wanted to post any comments until the investigation was complete.

"We realized there were people concerned because they didn't get enough information as quickly as they would have liked, but I was out investigating and interviewing kids," he said. "I don't have a press officer, so am I going to continue interviewing kids or stop and write something down?"

Overall, Olson said he is proud of the students and parents who were calling in with information they were finding and hearing over social media because they were being proactive. And he wants to assure the public if there had been a credible threat the schools would have either been locked down or classes would have been canceled.

"We are going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe," Olson said. "What we can't control is what others put out over social media."


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