The issue of facial covering requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic returned to the agenda for the Hayward Community Schools Board of Education Monday, Feb. 15, as the board voted 4-3 to require all board members to wear face coverings during their meetings.
Board meetings typically are held on stage in the high school auditorium and are open to the public. Board member Stacey Hessel has been the only board member not wearing a mask in meetings.
During discussion of the issue, Hessel said, “I wear my mask (in the building) until I’m seated, just like you do in a restaurant. After a year of dealing with this, it’s very harassing to put it in place at this point,” she added.
Board member Derek Hand said, “I do have a problem with us trying to control the actions of another board member. What recourse do we have? We’re making a rule that we can’t enforce.”
Member Mike Kelsey said, “I think we have a duty to lead by example. We have to show respect to the students and staff.”
Board member Dr. Harry Malcolm said members should have the option of participating in meetings virtually.
“Once we vaccinate the teachers, we can move on and get away from masks at school,” Malcolm added. “I hope that will happen sometime in April.”
Board member Jim Ahrens said signs on the building door state that “all people must wear masks. This area (auditorium) is part of our school. I think we should respect that.”
Board President Linda Plante said, “It’s a sign of respect that we all support as a team the proposal we have for the teachers, the students.”
Voting in favor of requiring board members to wear masks were Ahrens, Kelsey, Lynell Swenson and Plante. Voting against the requirement were Hessel, Malcolm and Hand.
Malcolm said, “I strongly believe in masking, but there’s no way to enforce it.”
Face coverings also were an issue for community members Aaron Halberg and Sarah Halberg, who spoke against the board’s requirement that all persons in the school buildings wear face coverings through the third quarter of the school year. Aaron Halberg cited exemptions under the governor’s most recent emergency mask order, including individuals with medical conditions, and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Halberg cited science on the health risks of mask wearing. “I’m here to speak up for the kids, the families who want the choice, because there are real feedbacks on the negative side of wearing masks,” he said.
Sarah Halberg also argued for flexibility in children’s mask wearing.
“All of us have over a 99% chance of surviving if we get COVID,” she said. “Our rights are being infringed upon.”
Supt. Craig Olson said the school district’s decisions on mask wearing are based on advice from the Sawyer County Public Health Department, the board’s attorney and the district’s insurance agency.
Olson reported that to date this school year, 39 students and 16 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
Olson said his goal is for all students to return to school in person five days a week for the 2021-22 year.
On behalf of the school district, High School Principal Dan VanderVelden presented a diploma to Hayward resident John Stone, 47, as the Board of Education, school staff and audience applauded. Stone was accompanied by Sawyer County Literacy Coach Deb Helquist.
Stone explained that he was “shy a half credit” of meeting the Hayward High School graduation requirements 30 years ago. Helquist “reached out to me” and helped him earn four credits since November 2020 — more than enough to meet the requirement.
“It was something nagging on me, something I wished I had,” he said.
Other board action
In other action, the board:
• Approved adding two new full-time teacher positions at the high school, one in art and technology education; and one in physical education and health. The board also approved a new math intervention teacher position at the middle school.
• Voted to change the title of Assistant Elementary School Principal to Primary School Principal.
• Approved a salary schedule for 2021 summer school staff. Summer school, named “Canes Camp 2021,” will operate daily during June, an extension of the regular school year for grades K-11, with two periods per day devoted to academic core classes of English language arts and math, and two periods devoted to electives. Students will receive free breakfast and lunch and will be bused to and from school.
This year’s summer school will be supported with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for enrichment and remediation due to the impact of COVID-19.
• Approved the renewal of employee health insurance coverage with Health Partners for no increase in cost over last year. The premiums are $895.84 per month for a single person, $2,015.66 for single person plus one and $2,732.32 for a family. Of these premiums, the employee pays 5%.
“Out of a $22 million (district) budget, we spend over $5 million on health insurance,” said Malcolm, who chairs the Finance Committee.
• Approved the calendar for the 2021-22 school year. The first day of class for students will be Sept. 1 and the last day will be June 3, 2022.
• Received an achievement gap reduction (AGR) report for kindergarten through third grade students in math and reading for 2020-21.
• Approved the transfer of Dan Bergschneider to head middle school wrestling coach and hiring of Grady Radabaugh as assistant middle school wrestling coach.
Malcolm reported that 1,965 students were enrolled in the district as of Jan. 15, 2021, which is down from 2,001 on Sept. 18, 2020.
Olson listed the following recent donations to the schools:
• Hayward Music Boosters gave their annual $5,000 matching donation for the music program including band instruments.
• Hats, mittens and gloves from First Lutheran Church to the primary school;
• Hats and mittens from Grace Lutheran Church to the primary school;
• Three boxes of masks, two cases of crayons and two cases of pencils from Walmart.
Learning Like a Cane
Technology Coach Sarah Gunn gave a presentation about her duties. She acts as a liaison between teachers, administrators and the technology they use, and conducts training before, during and after the school day.
Elementary music teacher Destiny Schultz gave a presentation about “One-to-One Coaching in Elementary Music for a Finished Production.”