Riley County Law Board, March 20, 2023

Observer, Greg Wurst

The Riley County Law Board met at noon on Monday, March 20. 

Expenditures were approved. 

Gary Olds asked the board to keep the budget level as a form of tax relief. 

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #17 had no comments.

Board member Ford thanked RCPD for the “ride along” on March 4.

A National Public Safety Telecommunications Week Proclamation was read. 

Jacob Wilson was promoted to sergeant.  Daniel Bortnick was promoted to Lieutenant.

The Community Advisory Board stated that they would like more input from the community and participation if anyone wants to become a member.

Captain Steere discussed Fake Patty’s Day.  There was some property damage and a lot of trash.  Calls for the police were about 1/3 of what they were in 2013.  Covid has curbed some of it.  The celebrations have moved somewhat from Aggieville to house parties in different areas.  RCPD has to remain fluid and mobile.  Comparisons were made to home football game crowds  (Director Peete facetiously made the comment that if KSU made the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament and there was a celebration Manhattan could get some help from Lawrence since KU is out of the tournament).  RCPD is still debriefing from the event to improve for next year. 

An audit engagement Letter was approved.

A purchase of a new Information Technology System with leftover funds was approved.  

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Riley County Law Board, Tuesday February 21, 2023

Observer:  Greg Wurst

The RCPD Law Board met at noon on Tuesday, February 21.

They discussed RCPD taking over the animal control duties.  The idea is to transfer the three Animal Control Officers to RCPD and contract out the animal control shelter.  There were issues about jurisdiction outside of the City of Manhattan, i.e. Pottawatomie and Riley counties.  It was also brought up that RCPD has openings to be filled now.  Why should they take on more jobs.  Commissioner Matta said it would have to be done with an economical price tag.  Director Peete said he would like to say yes, but there are a lot of issues that need to be settled such as staffing, vehicles, IT, and benefits.  It is a risky proposition.  Assistant Director said he did not think it was a good idea and could not be done without increasing the budget.  Commissioner Matta said the Animal Control Office likes the idea of being under the RCPD.  It was left that these issues should be discussed and brought up later to make a sound decision.

Commissioner Peete said RCPD was working on their Strategic Goals Plan and wanted to know what priorities the board may have.  Commissioner Butler said he would like to see electronics in place of manpower such as using more cameras and better lighting.  Commissioner Matta said fentanyl should be addressed as well as the upcoming city changes such as the Aggieville construction, the Light Museum and downtown redevelopment.  Kaleb James said he wanted to keep the budget down and Betty Mattingly-Ebert agreed with him that the Board should see the Director’s plan before they commented on it.

The Board then went into executive session to discuss non-elected personnel matters and attorney client privilege.


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USD 383 Board of Education, Nov. 16, 2022

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

During public comment for non-agenda items, two citizens made comments to the effect the district had missed an opportunity to educate students about Native Americans during Native American Heritage Month because a curriculum wasn’t in place. During superintendent and board members’ comments, the topic was continued. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, said he accepts responsibility for not being prepared to say what is being done to educate students about Native Americans, but he didn’t want the public to interpret that as meaning the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) or Teaching and Learning didn’t care. Dr. Paula Hough, Exec. Dir. of Teaching and Learning, explained that curriculum goes through a vetting process, which takes a lot of time. Board member Curt Herrman mentioned the recent recommendation from the State Board of Education (SBOE) to the effect that districts cease using Native American-related mascots, and he added that the SBOE can’t force USD 383 to do it. He reiterated the things the district has done the past few years, including naming the MHS commons for Frank Prentup, having students select the wolf as the mascot, reforming the CDI, working on curriculum about Native American culture, and establishing a scholarship for Native American students. He added that the majority of the board is not interested in changing the mascot, so the issue would not be addressed.

Board member Christine Weixelman said there is general distrust by the public of district administration, which was given the directive to leave Native American imagery alone, and administration has continued to insidiously try to erase it and spend a great deal of money to erase it. She said CDI was established as part of a plan, but administration has dragged its feet in reporting to the board on curriculum, so she would support a motion at a future meeting to dismantle CDI. She thought administration hadn’t upheld board decisions, and administration goes along with those who are trying to push their own agenda through the back door.

More about the Indian name was discussed as part of an agenda item to replace the turf and goalposts at Bishop Stadium. Herrman began the discussion by asking what changes were planned for the turf. Eric Reid, Asst. Superintendent answered that some of the funds for the original turf had come from fundraising, which included allowing donor advertisements on the turf for the next ten years. The advertisements would be removed, and administration’s recommendation was to have the end zones say “Manhattan” and “Ogden.” “Ogden” would replace the word “Indians” in one end zone. The recommendation was to follow what was described as a “neutral” path. Weixelman thought removing “Indians” was not neutral. Brandy Santos thought that as long as the Indian is the district’s symbol, it should be honored. Santos believed moving in a neutral direction was not something the board had said it wanted to do, so she wanted administration to follow district policy. Reid responded that there is no district policy that said “this is what it has to be,” and added that administration will follow the board’s direction. Kristin Brighton commented that the current board can’t control what future boards want to do, and she thought going in a neutral direction would protect the district from a $500,000 expense if a future board wanted to change the turf. Brighton suggested voting to replace the turf but holding off on a decision about the end zones. Karla Hagemeister noted that the proposed motion in the packet said nothing about the wording on the turf, and she noted that the board hasn’t made decisions in the past about what goes on helmets and jerseys. She added that at the beginning of 2022, it was requested that board members review whether the district has done the things discussed 5-6 years ago surrounding the mascot issue, and the decision in Jan. 2022 was not to bring it up. Hagemeister wondered what had changed to cause other board members to want to take up the discussion, since she regarded discussing the wording on the turf as revisiting the topic. Herrman noted that if a future board wanted to remove “Indians” from the end zone, it wouldn’t cost $500,000 to replace one end zone. He said he asked what was being changed because if he hadn’t asked, board members wouldn’t have been aware of the plan to replace “Indians” with “Ogden.” Santos said she had suggested the end zone’s wording should be discussed in executive session because she regarded it as a personnel issue due to her perception that Dr. Wade was going against district policy. Brighton wondered if the wording portion should be tabled and then have the Facilities and Growth Committee discuss it, which is how murals and similar items are handled. During public comment, Kim Kuntz echoed Brighton’s comment about tabling the matter because significant changes had been planned without community involvement. Herrman thought the board needed to vote on both turf replacement and the end zone wording or otherwise the board would be opening a can of worms, meaning re-opening the mascot discussion. Santos moved to approve the turf replacement and goalposts project with the end zones remaining as “Manhattan” and “Indians” and with advertisements being removed. Board President Herrman declared the motion approved 5-2.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Feb. 16, 2022

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board reviewed the district’s pandemic response plan. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, recommended making mask wearing optional for students in grades K-12 beginning on Feb. 21, noting community metrics looked good and are continuing to improve. He recommended to continue to require masks at early learning centers and on buses. He noted that one of the layers of mitigation is the vaccine, which is not yet available for children under age five and which was why he was not comfortable with changing the mask requirement for that age group. He added that the district’s medical advisory team supported the recommendations.

Christine Weixelman was concerned that children at early learning centers could be masked indefinitely and may have been masked their entire time in preschool. She asked if children attending early learning centers could be unmasked if testing showed they had antibodies. Brandy Santos commented that some students at early learning centers could be age five and vaccinated. Dr. Wade said he would rather not define situations where students at early learning centers could unmask and didn’t want to ask anyone to prove anything.

Ms. Santos said she supported the plan and thought making masks optional was long overdue. She asked about the reasoning for requiring masks on buses, and Dr. Wade said it was federal law. During the meeting Eric Reid, Asst. Superintendent, looked up the requirement for masks on buses and said it was a federal order from the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Curt Herrman commented that he has been following the recommendations of the medical advisory team and would continue to do so in supporting the latest recommendations. Kristin Brighton hoped that people would have enough human dignity that if asked to wear a mask while working with a student with health concerns that they would do so.

Karla Hagemeister commented that the medical advisory team never said masks would be worn forever, and she supported the recommendation, noting that circumstances and knowledge have changed. Jayme Morris-Hardeman said the situation was a tough one, and she had looked at data to help her make the decision. She didn’t think masking should be optional until the positivity rate had dropped below 10% for two weeks.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the pandemic response plan, making masks optional for grades K-12 and mandatory at early learning centers and on buses. Morris-Hardeman voted against the motion. The plan will next be reviewed prior to March 25.

The board also received reports on the professional development school partnership with KSU, a report from the IT department, and a report from the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). Some board members expressed concerns about seemingly micromanaging CDI and didn’t want to see the board spend hours rewriting the months of work and evaluation done by the committee. Others felt the board needed to review CDI’s bylaws, and if the committee is going to advise the board, board members need to be sure the committee is what they want it to be.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Feb. 2, 2022

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board reviewed the pandemic response plan. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, recommended to continue the current plan, which includes universal masking, until at least Feb. 16. He said the goal is to provide in-person school five days a week safely, and the district is not yet at the point where that could be done unmasked. Brandy Santos said she appreciates the plan and supports masking, but she felt it should be parents’ choice whether their students wear masks. Jayme Morris-Hardeman commented that she wants kids in school, considers in-person school a priority, and thought masks help to achieve that. Christine Weixelman said she understood the need for masks at the beginning of the pandemic when much was still unknown, but as the pandemic has continued, she’s questioned the reasoning for masking healthy people. She would like to see masks be optional for all students and staff. She didn’t think the district should continue to make children feel responsible for adults’ healthcare, hospital overcrowding, or the strain on the medical community. She felt it was time to allow families to decide for themselves about mask wearing. Other board members felt their views on mask wearing were known and didn’t need to be restated. The board voted 4-3 to approve the pandemic response plan, which included universal masking. Santos, Weixelman, and Darell Edie opposed the motion. The plan will next be reviewed prior to Feb. 21.

Lew Faust, Dir. of Business Services, updated the board on a couple of bills in the Kansas Legislature affecting school districts. One of the bills would require districts to allow students who are homeschooled, attend virtual school, or attend private school to participate in district extracurricular activities. Currently, students who are educated in one of these settings have to take at least one “brick and mortar” class to participate, and the bill would remove this requirement. Students do have to reside in the district’s boundaries.

Another bill would require districts to accept out-of-district students, creating an “open borders” type of scenario, which would allow students to attend school in any district. This would go into effect July 1, 2022. Mr. Faust said the Kansas Assoc. of School Boards opposes the bill because it undermines school boards and local control. Eric Reid, Asst. Superintendent, commented that out-of-district students can impact the success of bond issues because tax payers want to know if out-of-district students are driving the need to expand facilities. Mr. Reid added that the finance formula is also a year behind, meaning if the district accepted 50 out-of-district students in a given year, the district would not receive state funding for those 50 students until the following year. At present, districts are not required to provide transportation for out-of-district students. Karla Hagemeister thought the “open borders” option was disequalizing because some students would lack the resources to provide their own transportation and wouldn’t have access to the “open borders” option that other students would have.

Mr. Reid updated the board regarding the community discussions about the use of MHS East Campus once ninth-graders move to MHS West Campus. He emphasized that USD 383 is not abandoning the building and still needs to use it, and the portions being considered for another use are those that are ADA compliant and could be used by a community partner without doing anything extra. Use of the building will be discussed with departments this spring, and that will inform what square footage could possibly be available for other uses.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Jan. 5, 2022

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

Eric Reid, Asst. Superintendent, reported that the district had had the most positive COVID cases ever. Mr. Reid said the district was going to fight “tooth and nail” to stay open. The situation was on the cusp of impacting bus routes, i.e. having enough drivers, and also the ability to serve hot lunch. He said one building would begin serving cold lunches this week. Karla Hagemeister asked if there had been conversations about closing school, closing specific schools, or specific grades, and Mr. Reid answered that administration hadn’t talked about options yet. Kristin Brighton asked about the availability of COVID tests at schools, and Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, said schools have plenty of test kits. Brandy Santos asked if the district would be adopting the CDC’s revised quarantine guidelines, and Michelle Jones, Dir. of Communications and School Safety, answered that KDHE would make that decision and then would pass it along to local health departments.

Mr. Reid also reported that a water pipe associated with the sprinkler system had broken at Oliver Brown Elementary, and it was not yet known what had caused the break.

The board voted 7-0 to acquire the property located at 2120 Oak Street near the high school. The board approved 7-0 a $1/hr. retention bonus for classified employees for hours worked since the beginning of the school year through December.

Board members thanked outgoing board members Jurdene Coleman and Katrina Lewison for their service. The Jan. 5 meeting was their last meeting. Curt Herrman and Ms. Brighton expressed interest in serving as board president, and Darell Edie and Ms. Hagemeister expressed interest in serving as vice president.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Jan. 3, 2022

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board held a special meeting to review the district’s pandemic response plan. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, began by reminding board members that since Nov. 1, 2021, masks have been optional at the high school level and in district support buildings. His recommendation now was to reinstate a universal mask requirement.

Dr. Ryan Knopp and Dr. Kate Dove, who are both members of the district’s medical advisory committee, provided the board with information related to the recommendation to reinstate a mask mandate. Dr. Knopp commented that the committee had anticipated recommending to have masks be optional for the elementary level for the second semester and hadn’t seen the current lingering delta wave and omicron wave coming. He said the medical advisory committee recommended mask-wearing for all levels for the next 4-6 weeks. He noted that the number of cases nationwide had increased 204%, the positivity rate was 20%, and the hospitalization rate was 35% in the past 14 days. Locally, he said more grade school kids are testing positive, the local hospital has 19 cases, and the hospital’s capacity as well as outpatient care is overwhelmed. Dr. Knopp commented that the mask recommendation is more about keeping schools open and people healthy, rather than risk experiencing staff shortages and the need to shut down schools. He noted that mitigation tools include vaccines, testing, staying home when experiencing symptoms, good hygiene, sanitizing, and masks. He added that the data and trend lines don’t look good for the next month or so, and thus the situation dictates that we pivot and return to universal masking temporarily.

Kristin Brighton asked if there were any other recommendations, and Dr. Dove replied with encouraging staff to get the booster vaccine to help keep schools open. Brandy Santos asked if the booster was effective for the omicron variant, and Dr. Knopp said yes, although it’s not clear for how long, but at least for a handful of months. Ms. Brighton asked if Manhattan has had any omicron cases, and Dr. Dove said probably, but samples aren’t typed, so there hasn’t been a KDHE-confirmed local case of omicron. Dr. Dove added that with the delta variant, there was the risk of kids getting inflammatory disease 4-6 weeks post-COVID, and it’s still unknown what will happen post-omicron. Ms. Santos asked what school nurses think about universal masking and what percentage of tests are used at school. Dr. Wade answered that school nurses have mixed responses to universal masking, and he couldn’t provide accurate information about testing in school.

Curt Herrman wondered if the date for mask wearing should be extended to Feb. 4, and Dr. Knopp said the medical advisory committee had thought 6-8 weeks might be better, and less than four weeks wouldn’t provide enough time to see trends. Jurdene Coleman commented that the intention had been to decrease masking policies as spring break approached with the hope that people would get vaccinated to help mitigate the spread. She felt it was important to acknowledge that some people in the community would be disappointed if masks are required and also important to acknowledge that it had not been the district’s plan to have to do that.

The board approved 4-1 to make masks mandatory at all USD 383 sites with the plan to review the pandemic response plan prior to Feb. 4. Brighton, Coleman, Herrman, and Karla Hagemeister voted in favor of a universal mask mandate, and Santos voted against. Board members Darell Edie and Katrina Lewison were absent.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Dec. 20, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board reviewed the pandemic response plan, and Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, recommended a continuation of the current plan, which included optional mask-wearing at the high school level and at district support buildings, and masks required at middle schools, elementary schools, early learning centers, and on buses. The board approved 4-1 a continuation of the plan, with Jurdene Coleman, Kristin Brighton, Karla Hagemeister, and Curt Herrman voting in favor and Darell Edie voting against. (Brandy Santos arrived later in the meeting, and Katrina Lewison was absent.) The board will review the plan again on Jan. 19.

During board comments, Ms. Brighton shared that she had met with leaders of both sides of the mascot issue, and discussion had included ways to better educate about Native Americans and a possible community compromise. She thought the meetings were productive, and she planned to move forward with putting together a private group to develop an educational component as well as address the mascot issue, and when the group feels like it has developed a realistic plan, it will be brought to the board and administration. She acknowledged that it’s possible the group may not come up with a compromise.

Board members also discussed the land acknowledgement statement, which was proposed at a previous meeting. The statement would be read before every board meeting and would state that Kansas was historically home to Native nations, land was “unwillingly relinquished” to the U.S. government, and the board wishes to acknowledge this in an effort to educate students. Ms. Coleman began the discussion and said she had received feedback from the community members Ms. Brighton had met with and had received language from KSU, which had been adjusted to be more relevant to USD 383. She said the purpose is to acknowledge that USD 383 sits on land that was originally by and for Native peoples, and as a board, we’re committed to educating the community and students about that.

Four citizens addressed the board during public comment about the statement. Three citizens were not in favor of the statement, providing reasons such as the matter has the “stench” of personal agenda, questioning why the matter came up in the last month of two board members’ terms, it seems like critical race theory, the statement references the wrong treaty, and the land was willingly ceded in 1846. One citizen expressed support for the statement.

Ms. Coleman addressed some of the comments, noting that any time a board member cares about a particular issue, they bring it to the rest of the board. She would have liked to have discussed the statement earlier, but any time in the past 24 months the board discussed matters unrelated to the pandemic and keeping kids in school, they received negative feedback. She also said she had consulted a local expert on Native American history in developing the historical accuracy of the statement.

Mr. Herrman said he would not support the statement and thought it was shallow because the board would not be giving the land back and all land has been conquered by other civilizations. He wondered if the district’s attorney had been consulted and whether the statement could make the district vulnerable to paying rent for the land or similar action.

Ms. Hagemeister was conflicted about the best way to move forward. She thought the statement served an educational purpose about Manhattan’s history. She asked board members if educating students is limited to a course or is it a framework that’s about who we are as a district? She wondered if reading the statement at every meeting was the best path forward.

Ms. Santos thought the statement sounded like it’s about eminent domain and didn’t think eminent domain was an issue the board wanted to tackle. She wanted to honor Native peoples but didn’t think the statement was the way to do it.

Mr. Edie wondered if there could be future legal issues if USD 383 acknowledged its land was stolen. He had also read some Kanza history, noted the land had flooded in 1844, and the Kanza had wanted to get rid of the land as a result, and so he wasn’t sure the land had been stolen. He thought the district’s attorney should look at the statement.

Ms. Brighton said she had met with representatives on both sides of the mascot issue, and both sides had valid points. She thought some people would regard the statement as critical race theory and creating division, and some would see it as educational, and so she was conflicted. She suggested possibly putting the statement on the district’s website with links providing additional information for teachers to use.

Ms. Coleman commented that during her four years on the board, the discussion of the land acknowledgement statement was the only time the board had discussed Indigenous people and the area’s history. She felt the statement had done what it was supposed to do in that it had spurred discussion and research. Ms. Coleman moved to approve the land acknowledgement statement, but the motion died for lack of a second. Ms. Brighton moved to table the discussion to provide time to work on the statement more, and the motion failed 3-3, with Brighton, Coleman, and Hagemeister voting in favor, and Edie, Herrman, and Santos voting against the motion.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Nov. 17, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board reviewed the district’s pandemic response plan. In October, the board updated the plan and made masks optional at the high school and at district support buildings while continuing mask mandates for buses/district vehicles and at elementary and middle schools. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, reported that the district’s metrics are doing well with no drastic changes. Last week, 189 students and staff were tested for COVID as part of a strategy to keep kids in school who have been in close contact. Since masks became optional on Nov. 1 at the high school level, one student at MHS West Campus and one student at MHS East Campus have tested positive. Dr. Wade’s recommendation was to continue with the current plan and review the plan on Dec. 17. Brandy Santos said she would like masks to be a choice for students and staff who are vaccinated. Darell Edie wanted to see masks become optional at the middle school level. Karla Hagemeister noted that sixth-graders have only recently become eligible for the vaccine, have had only one dose so far, the second dose would be in December and effective two weeks later. Curt Herrman agreed with following the recommendation of the medical advisory team and noted there aren’t many school days until Dec. 17 (because of Thanksgiving break) when the plan will be next reviewed. Kristin Brighton commented that numbers have been consistent over the past three weeks, and she agreed with continuing the plan. Jurdene Coleman had also hoped masks could become optional at the middle schools but understood the recommendation to wait on that because sixth-graders aren’t fully vaccinated yet. The board approved 5-2 to continue the current pandemic response plan with Ms. Santos and Mr. Edie voting against the motion.

The board held a preliminary discussion about the high school mascot with Ms. Brighton leading the discussion. Board members didn’t plan to take any formal action, so the board did not accept public comment on the topic. Ms. Brighton asked the board to consider three things: do they even want to discuss the mascot again; if yes, do they want to discuss it with the current board or wait until newly elected board members are seated in January 2022; and if the mascot is discussed, what additional information is needed from administration or the public. Board members were each asked to share their views, as well as incoming members Jayme Morris-Hardeman and Christine Weixelman. Ms. Brighton began by noting the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) had recommended on July 21, 2020, to refrain from the use of humans and human groups as symbols, but the pandemic had needed to be a priority, which is why the board hadn’t previously considered the recommendation.

Katrina Lewison commented that the mascot issue was discussed in 2017, and the decision then had been to keep the name, name the MHS commons area for Frank Prentup, and provide education about Native Americans. CDI didn’t have the opportunity to recommend removing the name because the board had already decided to keep it, but CDI’s recommendation was clear about refraining from using humans or human groups, and the board adopted the recommendation. Yet, MHS is still connected to “Indians,” which is in opposition to CDI’s recommendation. She said the district can’t move forward with parts of the strategic plan and ignore others.

Ms. Morris-Hardeman said one of her core values is to increase diversity and equity, and the use of “Indian” is in conflict with her core values. She would support a new image for MHS.

Ms. Weixelman felt the timing of the discussion was strange because it was occurring at the behest of 1-2 board members and was immediately following a contentious election and at a time of change. It looked to her to be calculating and intended to capitalize on a partisan majority. The issue seemed political to her because one must accept a narrow set of progressive claims about ethnicity and history to conclude the image is offensive, and most of the community doesn’t accept this. She thought framing the issue as unresolved was inaccurate, and it keeps coming up because a few people don’t like the resolutions that were previously arrived at. Her preference was to expand Native American education and take advantage of a unique opportunity for USD 383 to be an innovative leader. She commented that eradication advocates promote cultural genocide, claims that Native American mascots harm students are false, and she cited studies that showed Native American mascots aren’t offensive. She would not take up the discussion.

Ms. Hagemeister said she would take up the discussion, although she wasn’t sure about doing it in the next four weeks. She thought moving on a rapid pace might not be best for the community and could rob the district of the opportunity to find common ground. She noted it would be a challenging conversation, but the board can’t turn away for that reason or because times are hard.

Mr. Herrman said the mascot was a hot topic 16 years ago and again six years ago. The board spent two years on it at the time, and the community overwhelmingly supported keeping it. He thought the mascot was an honor and would keep it. He suggested creating a video to be shown to new students and staff that would explain why MHS is the Indians. His preference was to wait for the new board to be seated to discuss it.

Mr. Edie didn’t want to discuss it, and he noted that if the current board made a decision now, the new board could change it. He mentioned a recent lawsuit in Colorado that was filed as a result of the state’s banning Native American mascots.

Ms. Santos commented that she sees the Indian mascot as an honor but acknowledged she could be wrong. She didn’t think it was a symbol of racism or that “Indian” is a discriminatory word. She understood the perspective of being inclusive but wondered if removing the mascot would be dishonoring. The community has discussed it at length, and she wasn’t sure any progress would be made in uniting the community. She wondered if the current board has satisfied the obligations the last board said it would do. She thought the last board had worked diligently, and if the board takes up the topic again, the board should give the topic its all and take as long as it needs.

Ms. Coleman commented that everything the board does is calculated and thoughtful. She noted a previous board president had brought up the issue, and the board had already agreed to discuss it. The next board can’t always uphold what a previous board did, and she provided the example of when corporal punishment used to be acceptable as something a previous board had established and is no longer upheld. She would like to see the issue revisited because times have changed, but not necessarily with the current board. She was afraid of what the discussion would mean to her professionally and personally if it were discussed now.

Ms. Brighton noted people connected with native nations are divided on the issue, with some seeing it as an honor and others seeing it as derogatory. She serves on CDI and sees the issue will always be hanging over us. 30% of the district’s students aren’t white, and the district should make them feel accepted. One path could be to table the discussion until the board’s retreat in Feb. 2022, and in the meanwhile, put together a working group of past and present board members who would work with both sides to come up with a diplomatic consensus. Ms. Weixelman and Ms. Coleman volunteered to be part of the working group. Ms. Santos wasn’t sure the topic would be the best use of the retreat’s time.

Following their statements, board members continued to discuss whether to take on the topic, and the consensus was to wait until Jan. 2022 to bring it up. Ms. Brighton planned to reach out to both sides of the issue to ask for representatives to serve on the working group. The board also wanted administration to provide updated information about what the costs might be. In the past, expenses such as new team uniforms were mentioned, but as teams have cycled out old uniforms, new uniforms have used a block “M” on them, reducing potential costs.

The board was also provided with a budget update. It was noted that funding for at-risk was a challenge this year. In the past, at-risk students were identified through free and reduced lunch, but with the federal government’s providing funding for all lunches, a household survey had been used instead, which hadn’t resulted in the expected return. In addition, a finance law provision required the district to transfer funds from the supplemental general fund to the at-risk budget, which was viewed as not sustainable.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Oct. 20, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing the district’s mask mandate and whether to extend it. The NEA representatives reported that they had surveyed members at the high school level and had received 55 responses. Of the responses received, 62% favored continuing the mask mandate, 27% wanted to discontinue the mandate, and 11% were on the fence. Board members were appreciative of having some idea how teachers felt about the mask mandate.

Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, began the mask mandate discussion with saying the district is nine weeks into the year and COVID numbers have been steady and improving. There has been ample time to get vaccinated, so vaccination rates will likely not change much going forward. Dr. Wade’s recommendation was to allow students, staff, and visitors at MHS East and West Campuses to stop wearing masks beginning Nov. 1. He realized there could be consequences with more people in quarantine, but also wondered when should the district try not wearing masks? He added that the intent was never that masks would be worn for the entire time of COVID until it went away, but rather, masks were a mitigation measure to use until other factors allowed for success without masks. Dr. Wade’s recommendation was for mask wearing to continue at the elementary level, middle schools, and early learning centers because those age levels aren’t able to get vaccinated yet. All students would still be required to wear masks when in a district vehicle.

Board members shared their views about the mask mandate. Katrina Lewison thought it’s the board’s role is to provide conditions for success and to keep students and teachers in school as well as have enough staff to stay open. If the district moved forward with no masks at the high school level, there would likely be consequences and she struggled with the potential risk. Consequences would affect unvaccinated students, so she encouraged the community to get vaccinated. Karla Hagemeister said she agreed with Ms. Lewison’s comments. She was concerned about nurses’ offices, which are typically small spaces where students might be sick, and she wondered if masks should be required for nurses’ offices. She also hoped that if a teacher has a health concern and asked students to voluntarily wear masks that people would have empathy for each other. Ms. Hagemeister didn’t want a group to feel like they’re guinea pigs, and the situation didn’t escape her.

Curt Herrman said he was relying on the recommendation of the medical advisory team that supported the updated plan of making masks optional at the high school level. Darell Edie didn’t believe masks work and mentioned that he hadn’t seen outbreaks resulting from crowds. He was concerned about proposed language in the updated plan that encouraged vaccination for children under 12.

Kristin Brighton said she was struggling with the proposal and looked at the situation as what’s the risk versus the reward. If masks were optional at the high school level, there will be more students in quarantine. She questioned how wearing masks impeded learning at the high school level. The community vaccination rate is 37%, which likely means there are many unvaccinated students, and masks help to reduce the virus’ spread. She thought a large part of mask wearing is related to peer pressure, and students are vulnerable to peer pressure and would succumb and remove their masks. She noted that we’re at the point of people getting boosters and close to approval for younger children to be vaccinated, and so she wondered if it might be smarter to wait a couple of more months before rescinding a mask mandate.

Brandy Santos commented that her opinion hasn’t changed, which is mask wearing is a health decision that should be left to parents. The district’s responsibility is to keep kids safe while at school, but health issues should be parental decisions. Jurdene Coleman said she was leaning on the medical advisory team because they’re the experts. She thought managing the spread of a virus feels different than managing one’s own personal health. She didn’t see a real tipping point that if certain factors are in place, then she would feel confident in saying no to masks, but the district has to ease into change and starting with a group that has had the opportunity to be vaccinated will help to show what we’re dealing with. She also emphasized that the board could make a course correction in the future if making masks optional seems to be a mistake.

Board members were agreeable to rephrasing the language about encouraging vaccinations to make Mr. Edie feel more comfortable. Ms. Santos moved to make masks optional for all USD 383 students and staff, and the motion failed 2-5, with Ms. Santos and Mr. Edie voting in favor of the motion. Mr. Herrman moved to approve the updated pandemic response plan as presented by administration with a review to occur prior to Nov. 19, and the motion carried 6-1 with Ms. Brighton voting against the motion.

The updated pandemic response plan makes masks optional at MHS East and West Campuses and at district support buildings. All students must wear masks on buses/district vehicles. Students, staff, and visitors are required to continue wearing masks at middle schools, elementary schools, and early learning centers. Schools can begin to allow a limited number of volunteers into the building. No visitors are allowed in cafeterias during meal times.

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