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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USD 383 Board of Education, Sept. 15, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board reviewed the district’s pandemic response plan, which had included requiring face masks to start the school year and with the plan to revisit the situation prior to Sept. 24. Dr. Marvin Wade, Supt., noted that the primary purpose of the plan is to be able to maintain in-person school five days a week and added that vaccinations and masks are an important part of the plan. Dr. Wade’s recommendation was to continue to require masks for another month due to an increased positivity rate and to help the overtaxed medical community. He also introduced a “stoplight” coding system where “red” represented where the district is now with multiple mitigation efforts in force, such as mask wearing, distancing, use of hand sanitizers, use of Plexiglass panels, etc.The “yellow” level would require fewer mitigation measures, and people who provide proof of vaccination could opt out of wearing masks. The “green” level involved less mitigation and no required masks. Testing was also introduced as an option to know rapidly someone’s COVID status and also for those in quarantine.

Brandy Santos thought healthcare is parents’ responsibility, and she was concerned that requiring masks would establish a precedent such that masks could be required in the future to prevent the spread of the flu. Jurdene Coleman was concerned about the “yellow” level and felt it wasn’t clear what conditions would move the district to “yellow.” Curt Herrman agreed and wasn’t sure people would like to be asked to provide proof of vaccination. He also commented that he would rather err on the side of caution. Darell Edie thought few people are wearing masks to concerts and large sports events and very few are getting sick. He was concerned that there wasn’t an exemption for medical or religious reasons, he thought masks provide a false sense of security, and he wasn’t comfortable with encouraging vaccination for children under 12 with what he considered to be an unproven vaccine. Katrina Lewison noted that students under the age of 12 are not able to be vaccinated, and so she thought the mask requirement should continue as long as this segment of the population is unvaccinated. Kristin Brighton supported the plan and continuing to require masks. She didn’t think this was the time to make changes and potentially put staff in jeopardy. Eric Reid, Asst. Supt., commented that staff numbers were at the lowest last November when it had been down to 80%, and the district had been able to manage then because the district was using a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, which required fewer staff. He was concerned that staff numbers were 88%, and he was especially concerned about classified staff numbers in the areas of transportation, food service, and para-educators. He commented that maintenance staff members are frequently used as bus drivers, which leads to fewer hours of the day that they can do necessary maintenance. Mr. Reid said the district’s ability to stay open is dependent upon the ability to maintain staff levels. Karla Hagemeister commented that the staffing issues have been a struggle for a long time, and the district can’t solve the problem on its own. The board approved the pandemic response plan 5-2 with mask-wearing continuing through Oct. 22. Ms. Santos and Mr. Edie voted against the plan.

The board also asked for an update on vandalism the high school and middle schools have been experiencing. Michael Dorst, MHS Principal, informed the board that there had been incidents of vandalism in restrooms over the past two weeks, involving ripping soap dispensers from the walls and other destructive activities. Mr. Dorst said administration has been working with student leaders and also the RCPD. He commented that punishments have already been dealt, the district will seek replacement costs, and parents have been communicated with about the matter.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Aug. 11, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The board held a special meeting to discuss the district’s pandemic response plan, including the recommendation to start the new school year by requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors. Supt. Marvin Wade began the discussion by saying there are heightened concerns due to the delta variant, and the pandemic response plan includes layers of prevention strategies, such as masks. Jurdene Coleman, board president, explained that the board would not be accepting public comment because they have heard from the public over multiple meetings, have received phone calls and emails, and on more than once occasion, members of the public indicated that other persons had already made their points, so it seemed that public input had reached a saturation level.

Each board member had prepared comments to explain their thoughts about mask-wearing. Brandy Santos commented that parental rights, including educational and medical choices, don’t stop at the district’s front doors. She was concerned that the vote could set a precedent of the district’s making decisions for parents. She thought the district should do everything it can to mitigate the spread of the virus, and parents could choose whether they want their children to wear masks at school.

Curt Herrman commented that the district strives to protect kids at all costs. He was relying on advice from the district’s medical advisory team. He said the pandemic can be stopped by collective action, and mask-wearing is a simple thing to do. He would rather err on the side of caution than do nothing and have a student become seriously ill.

Karla Hagemeister saw two primary issues: the district’s obligation to protect staff and students, and the mission to have students in school five days a week. The prevalence of illness in the community is a challenge and is different than it was in June and July. Without masks, students and staff would have to quarantine if exposed to the virus. Staff is already hard to come by for some positions, and schools can’t operate without staff. She trusted Dr. Wade’s judgment when he recommended to follow the advice of the medical advisory team to require masks in order to keep kids in school.

Darrell Edie said this was going to be one of the hardest votes. He didn’t believe masks are as effective as we give them credit for and thought masks give a false sense of security. He felt it was important for students to see teachers’ faces. He also thought the district needs to do everything to protect students and teachers. He thought the situation feels like trying to segregate based on masks or no masks, and he found the situation frustrating because there is too much information on the Internet.

Kristin Brighton was in favor of the pandemic response plan because the local medical advisory committee has given the board no reason not to follow its recommendations. She commented that Kansas City, where seriously ill Riley County patients are transferred, doesn’t have enough hospital beds. She said students wearing masks is not a perfect scenario, but the district needs to do everything possible because the district doesn’t want to have to close schools because there isn’t enough staff to keep them open.

Katrina Lewison said she had corresponded with people on both sides of the mask debate. The district has a mission to educate students, and so there’s a need to keep students and staff in the classroom because there is not a remote or hybrid option this year. The district has the responsibility to keep students and staff safe, and mask-wearing is another risk mitigation measure. She would like to see a future without masks but didn’t see that happening as long as children under 12 can’t be vaccinated. She wanted to review the mask mandate in the future and suggested establishing a timeline for future review.

Jurdene Coleman had thought back in June that school would be able to begin without masks, but then July showed dismal vaccination rates in Riley County and the rise of the delta variant. Hospitals were full, and we need to do our part to slow the spread. Some had commented that there isn’t a need to protect those who have chosen not to get vaccinated, but she felt a duty to protect those who are unvaccinated, even if they haven’t asked for it. She mentioned that some people have cited the low rates of serious illness in kids and no deaths in kids in Riley County, and she asked how can she say that one death or one incident of chronic illness isn’t enough to respond? It wasn’t a debate she wanted to have. She supported the pandemic response plan.

The board voted 6-1 in support of the pandemic response plan, which requires students and staff to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status through Sept. 24, 2021. Brandy Santos voted against. Dr. Wade commented that requiring masks through the first month of school would provide the opportunity to look at the metrics and review the situation. Board members discussed the possibility of reviewing the continuation of mask-wearing during the Sept. 15 board meeting and left open the possibility of scheduling a special board meeting for Sept. 22 to discuss the mask policy.

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USD 383 Board of Education, Aug. 4, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

The bulk of the board meeting was dedicated to discussing the district’s pandemic response plan and the superintendent’s recommendation that students and staff begin the school year with wearing masks. Supt. Marvin Wade recommended to the board that all students and staff wear masks while indoors through Sept. 24, and then the situation can be evaluated to determine if mask-wearing should continue.

Several members of the public addressed the board against wearing masks. Comments were along the lines of children don’t typically experience serious illness with COVID, masks hamper the social and emotional aspects of education, mask-wearing should be left to parents to decide, masks don’t actually work to prevent virus spread, and mask-wearing causes psychological harm.

Three local doctors who serve on the district’s medical advisory committee provided the board with information about COVID and mask use. It was noted that pediatric cases of COVID have increased 84% in the last two weeks nationwide. The majority of the COVID cases in the area are the delta variant, which spreads more easily than the original “wild” version of the virus. The CDC recommends that all individuals wear masks while indoors. Masks will help reduce the virus’ spread and keep kids in school.

Dr. Kyle Goerl told the board there have been good studies that show that mask wearing reduces outbreaks, and people wearing masks are 70% less likely to get the virus. He said there are no biological effects from wearing masks. He added the concern is that a child who contracts COVID could spread it to an unvaccinated adult, leading to hospitalization or death. He commented that for a population that isn’t able to be vaccinated (i.e. children under 12), the goal should be to reduce the spread and the possibility of spreading it to unvaccinated people.

Dr. Kate Dove told the board that children who contract COVID will likely experience mild symptoms, but she has also treated two children who are experiencing symptoms many months later. She thought it was important to have children in school, as opposed to remote learning, and thought that masks are an important tool for keeping kids in school. She also addressed the claim that masks don’t work and said she didn’t see children with any of the usual illnesses during last year’s mask-wearing. She commented that there isn’t long-term dats for the delta variant in kids, but what she’s seen isn’t favorable, and the delta variant may affect children more than the “wild” virus.

Board member Brandy Santos said she was committed to keeping kids in school five days a week, and she thought the CDC’s recommendation to wear mask indoors was a guideline and should be left to parents to decide. Curt Herrman commented that it’s up to the board to protect students and staff while they’re at school, and he favored mask-wearing. He asked what building administrators think about wearing masks. Two administrators addressed the board and said it was important to keep kids in school, and principals are ready. Asst. Supt. Eric Reid commented that the ability to keep kids in school is tied to the ability to stay fully staffed.

Board member Karla Hagemeister commented that remote and hybrid learning aren’t options this year for kids who might have to quarantine, and she didn’t know how to tell teachers to make it work without the remote option. Jurdene Coleman said the CDC recommended masks last year, and the district followed it. The vaccine is a choice, not all staff will get vaccinated, and mask-wearing is one thing the district can do to keep kids in school. Kristin Brighton and Katrina Lewison indicated they support wearing masks in school.

The board scheduled a special meeting for 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 11 to further discuss and take action on the district’s pandemic response plan.

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Riley County Law Board, June 21, 2021.

Observer: Greg Wurst

The Riley County Law Board met at noon on Monday, June 21, 2021.

Dr. Lackett of the KSU Social Work curriculum spoke about the Coalition for Equal Justice.  This group began in 2015 and its purpose is to insure impartial policing with no human bias.  They are building a constructive relationship with RCPD.  Areas for which they strive for fairness are:

1. recruiting, hiring and promotion

2.  prohibiting bias policies

3.  Impact training

4.  leadership

5.  methods of measurement

6.  promotion fair & impartial policies

7.  outreach, to engage the communities

Rachel Pace spoke for the Fraternal Order of Police promoting the fundraising run they are going to have in August.  Board members Hudgins and Stoney spoke well of the FOP’s efforts at the Juneteenth celebration and how they interacted with the community. 

There will be an open house for the new firing range on Tabor Valley Road from 9-11:00AM on June 30. 

The board voted a 2% midyear salary raise beginning July 1 using unused personnel funds. 

The board approved a 2022 budget which was 3.57% above the 2021 budget.

The board adjourned to executive session.  

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USD 383 Board of Education, June 2, 2021

Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer

During public comment time at the start of the meeting, 27 citizens addressed the board in regards to the culturally responsive teaching and learning curriculum the board had voted to purchase in April and then ultimately didn’t purchase. [At the May 5 meeting, it was reported the purchase would not be made this year due to a lack of funds. At-risk funds had been targeted for the purchase, but district accountants later said the training didn’t fit in a category that at-risk funds may be used for.] The citizens who spoke represented both sides of the issue. Those who were against the training were generally concerned that it included critical race theory, which they thought was divisive and doesn’t work. Those who supported the training were generally of the opinion that teachers should be provided with the tools to include diversity and equity in their lessons to create the optimal learning environment for all students.

A few of the candidates running for school board spoke during public comment on the matter. Candidate Christine Weixelman commented that the district provides opportunities, but some students need a hand up to access them. She wasn’t so naive as think there aren’t issues, but multiple methods have been implemented, questions need to be asked about employing these methods, and until there are answers, funds shouldn’t be spent on additional resources.

Candidate Teresa Parks thought reticence toward critical race theory comes from a lack of information and a little bit of fear. Once one has the information that explains what the problem is, then the excuse of “I didn’t know” is taken away.

Candidate Jayme Morris-Hardeman commented that she has spent her career working with vulnerable kids, and she has learned that three things are extremely important: place, relationship, and learning. You can’t learn if you don’t feel safe. There also needs to be a relationship for kids to learn and to have a teacher in the classroom who cares about them. Students can’t learn if they feel stressed.

During board members’ comments, Kristin Brighton asked other board members if they would be interested in holding a retreat and have experts provide them with information about critical race theory, and the board was generally interested in a retreat or work session. Karla Hagemeister commented that the district has been working on this for a long time and will continue to look at policies and procedures. She said it’s important work, worth doing, even if it’s uncomfortable, and it’s important to get to the root of the problem of how the district isn’t serving students of color and homeless students. Brandy Santos said the district is obligated to create an equal system, support the growth of all students, and training for teachers. She wasn’t supportive of critical race theory training but trusted that administration will develop training based on fact that would give teachers the tools they need to have inclusive classrooms. Curt Herrman thanked the public for providing comments and said diversity training is important. He said diversity isn’t only about race, but it’s also military kids, disabled, etc. He wasn’t sure what format training will look like, but it’s coming, and he will vote for it. Katrina Lewison commented that a few weeks ago, some community members sent a mass email that said the district plans to teach students to be racists, but that is wrong and the district is doing the opposite. She said at the last meeting, some citizens said implicit bias and systemic racism aren’t real, and perhaps community education is important. She said it’s a pendulum, and we will find the curriculum to address these issues. Darell Edie also thanked the speakers and said the district has been working to find where the problems are so we can do better. Jurdene Coleman commented that she was the only brown person in the room, and she had been struggling to have to give space to people who want to invalidate her life experiences. She felt the intent was negative behind the email that spurred the recent public participation. She thought it was unfortunate that people are being asked to prove that it’s difficult for them to exist in our community and in our buildings. She endorsed critical race theory and said it may make people uncomfortable, but that’s not a negative impact.

In other business, Lew Faust, Dir. of Business Service, reported on the ongoing challenge of the district’s high gas bill from the winter that is being disputed. He’d thought negotiations had been going well with Symmetry, the natural gas company, but then Symmetry had notified the Kansas Assoc. of School Boards that they were canceling the contract on June 30. The district had also received recently an overdue notice. He said the district was within its rights to dispute the bill and had been receiving outside counsel.

Mr. Faust also provided budget information. The district will receive $7.5 million in COVID relief funds. Funds may be used for, respond to, or recover from COVID. The board will be provided with an overview of how the funds will be used, which will have to be approved by the Kansas Dept. of Ed. before the district can draw on the funds.

The board received a report on Professional Learning and Collaboration from Dr. Paula Hough, Dir. of Teaching and Learning. During the report, it was mentioned the district is being monitored for improvement for populations that aren’t meeting expectations, including African American, homeless, English Language Learners, and disabled. Ms. Coleman commented that the district had been flagged for the disproportionate number of African American and special education students in in-school and out-of-school suspension.

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Riley County Law Board May 17, 2021

Observer: Greg Wurst

The Riley County Law Board met at noon on Monday, May 17.

The Consent Agenda was passed. 

Lorenzo Lockett of the Manhattan-Riley County Coalition for Equal Justice expressed concern that some minorities wanted to apply for boards, but did not know the application process or if they did apply were not apprised of the reason they were not chosen.  The board said some applications were not complete, e.g. I have lived in Manhattan for five years and I want to be on the law board.  Being on advisory boards is a great way to become involved in our local government. 

BeEtta Stoney said the Fair and Impartial Policing group was working well and forward thinking. 

Chief Butler said this was the 30th year of accreditation for RCPD which was very important. 

The water line, fencing and grading was done on the new firing range and it is for all intents and purposes done.

The board adjourned to executive session.

They agreed to have a special session for the 2022 budget, but no date was set.  

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USD 383 Board of Education, May 19, 2021

During the public comment period at the start of the meeting, nine citizens addressed the board. All nine expressed concerns about the BetterLesson for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Training that the board had approved to purchase on April 21. [At the May 5 meeting, it was reported that the purchase would not be made this year due to a lack of funds. At-risk funds had been targeted for the purchase, but at-risk funds can’t be used for professional learning, and so the purchase will not move forward.] Citizens who spoke were concerned that the training material involved critical race theory, which they felt would lead to division and harmful generalizations. Some of the citizens commented that they didn’t believe USD 383 had identified a racism problem and thought the board should define the problem before expending resources. Others were concerned that the training included topics such as implicit bias and systemic racism, and they were of the opinion that this type of training doesn’t work. A number of the speakers referenced religion and the Christian bible, commenting that education is for teaching the god-given truth, true unity comes from Jesus Christ, and sin is the root of injustice.

During the board members’ comment time, several board members addressed the public’s concern about the training program. Jurdene Coleman commented that the large number of emails board members had received on the topic had been exhausting. She said claims that the district was trying to indoctrinate students, trying to alter the moral compass of the community, going against God, wasting money, and claims that USD 383 doesn’t have these problems had no basis in fact. She said the board had not explained to the public why talking about equity is important. She said the board has tiptoed around and never combed through its own data for students of color and low socio-economic status in terms of graduation rates, out-of-school suspension rates, under representation in AP classes, and over representation in special education because the district has been afraid to admit they’ve been doing it wrong. Ms. Coleman wanted to be honest about the numbers, to be committed to changing how the system works, and provide students with the support they need. Katrina Lewison said it’s the board’s responsibility to create a climate of diversity and respect, and we need to recognize the biases in our backgrounds. Curt Herrman commented a local political party had created false hysteria, nothing illegal had occurred when the board had voted to purchase the training materials, and he felt it was unconscionable to claim the board members were sinners. Brandy Santos thought the community is more united than it might seem. She believed there are biases associated with race, and she said the board is here to provide every student with every opportunity. Kristin Brighton hoped the community would be involved when the board next looks at the curriculum.

In other business, the board received preliminary information about the budget, including projected inflation, healthcare estimates, and new expenses such as the new elementary school and the gym additions to the middle schools.

The board also approved establishing a leadership team comprised of representatives of USD 383, MATC, the city, and the business community for the purposes of exploring the possibility of creating a college and career academy. The academy would provide high school students with academic and real-world experiences. The proposed location for the academy would be MHS East Campus.

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Law Board Meeting, Monday April 19, 2021

Observer: Greg Wurst

There was a discussion on what constituted “Use of Force” from a report on the consent agenda. Definitions and counting methods were clarified.Proclamations were read designating National Corrections Officer Week and National Police Day. The Fraternal Order of Police have raised $5,000 for the Special Olympics. There should be running water to the Firing Range in a couple weeks. The final grading and constructing a fence will finish the project. There was a report on the Safe Cam program where people can let the police department know they can use their cameras to help fight crime. These would include (doorbell) ring cameras. There was a recap of the budget presentation from last month and some questions, but no action was taken. Meeting adjourned.

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Riley County Law Board, Monday, September 21, 2020

Observer:  Greg Wurst

The Riley County Law Board met at noon on Monday, September 21.

Derek Wood of the Corrections Division was promoted to Captain.

Corporal Dirks was given an award for his project in the Chicago operation which led to many drug arrests.

Mr. Shipley of Gordon and Associates presented the annual audit and said all expenses and income were accounted for and there was no malfeasance.

Detective Kyle said the shooting range was on schedule.

RCPD received a  $62,000 emergency award from the Justice Department that was used mostly for sanitation and cleaning supplies.

Director Butler asked to be able to order new vehicles for 2021 now instead of waiting until January because the manufacturers had told him because of Covid 19 if he waited they could not get him the vehicles in a timely manner.

The Board went into a 10 minute executive session.

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