Rick Stewart

High School Math teacher Rick Stewart was one of many teachers who spoke about the School District’s plans to reopen during a meeting July 15. 

 

Those in attendance at the Osceola Middle School Library July 15 spent nearly an hour hearing the School District’s reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year. 

When the regular board meeting commenced, President Brooke Kulzer opened the floor for public comment. 

The reopening plans was the topic among the speakers. 

Jeff Hahn, a math teacher at the school, was first to volunteer.

“What I would like to see in the high school,” Hahn said, “is a requirement of mask-wearing by everybody that walks in. You have to do it at Walmart now; you have to do it at Best Buy.”

He also cited a recent statement by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that if everyone wore masks, the virus could be controlled in a few weeks.

“Our job is to educate,” Hahn said. “That means that we have to educate with the science out there right now . . . Regardless of the politics.”

With deep concern in his voice, Hahn compared educating others about safety measures to educating students about the Holocaust. Even though there are Holocaust-deniers and mask-defiers, Hahn argued that both have scientific and historical validity.

As Hahn sat down, applause broke out amongst the attendants.

Nine other teachers and parents followed Hahn’s address, voicing profoundly emotional concerns. Throughout the speeches, many echoed Hahn’s petitions. Calls for mandating and depoliticizing facemasks reappeared throughout most of the discussions.

Peg Medcraft, an art teacher and longtime supporter of the school, drew attention to the CDC’s website where guidance is listed for reopening schools.

“Highest Risk,” the CDC website reads, “Full sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.”

The CDC’s lowest risk guidance recommends 100% virtual learning.

“We’ve chosen the highest risk guidance category,” Medcraft said. “This is crazy!”

Medcraft, spotting Board member Kysa Marten, sitting between two people not wearing masks (Superintendent Mark Luebker and fellow Board member Brian Meyer), furthered her argument. 

 “Kysa, you’re sitting in a COVID sandwich,” she said. “I can’t believe that you think this is what’s in the best interest for our community, for our staff and for our kids. I’m ashamed.”

Kindergarten teacher Darla Traynor strongly encouraged mandating masks because of the small classroom sizes.

“We say that we need masks when 6 feet social distancing is not available,” Traynor said. “Try standing 6 feet away from a five-year-old.”

Another concern was the mental and emotional health of the staff and students. French teacher William Oliphant requested that the committee prepare mental well-being guidance, as this school year will almost certainly take an emotional toll.

Other concerns were made about substitute teachers who travel to other schools and potentially expose themselves to the Coronavirus. Another attendee asked about COVID testing for students and test availability. Another asked about the poor ventilation in the elementary school building. Yet another voiced their frustrating experience with unstable internet connections during online learning.

Choral teacher and former Osceola student Olivia Willett has spent 20 years in the district and spoke boldly about her school pride – and her frustration with the present situation.

“When we took protocols in the spring, I was really impressed,” Willett said, “I was impressed that we shut down for a day before everybody else. I was impressed that we took action . . . So it’s very interesting to me that we’re coming back when we have higher rates.”

She concluded her speech with a list of questions for the Board to consider. The questions revolved around concerns such as how the staff will be informed of outbreaks, if there will be hazard pay for health risks, and how the death of a student or staff member will be handled.

 

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