Mask argument back in front of Mitchell Board of Education

Following extensive commentary from the audience of approximately 50 individuals at the meeting, the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night voted unanimously to adopt the recommended back-to-school safety protocols with the change that any modifications to said protocols would be decided by the board of education instead of the superintendent.

Board member opinions on the matter ranged from adoption of the proposed protocols as they were originally recommended to beginning the school with a mask mandate, as was done at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

In the end, the board approved beginning the year with the proposed protocols — which do not include a mask mandate but allow for masks to be worn by those who choose to do so — on a 5-0 vote.

While the vote was unanimous, Deb Olson, president of the Mitchell Board of Education, said the topic continues to be a touchy one that seems to divide people at the local, regional and national level. A recent survey on the protocols taken on the school district website indicated that respondents were split on the idea of masks.

For that reason, she supported the original protocols with the switch to having the school board make any final decisions on changes.

“I think the same thing is true in the community. There are people in the community who felt it kept the school open, and there are people that feel masks had no value last year,” Olson said before the board vote. “I am extremely grateful that we were able to remain in school all year last year. We did not have the cases as in some surrounding school districts. I’m grateful that we were able to have school as usual with masks. Could that happen this year? I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t know. For that reason I’m supportive of the protocols with masks optional.”

Though there was never a motion on the floor to start the year with a mask mandate, audience members remained firm in their desire to keep masks an optional choice for those on school grounds.

Sonja VanErdewyk, a member of the audience who has spoken against mask mandates at several board meetings, said decisions are being made without complete regard to scientific data.

“All the science has been dropped. This is the problem. The discussion is not about the science anymore, and it hasn’t been for the last 16 months,” VanErdewyk said. “(People) are not getting the truth and not getting accurate information, and people are dying and getting sick because of that.”

Grace Hempel, a ninth grader in the Mitchell School District, said she enjoys school, but the mask mandate imposed last year was extremely difficult to deal with.

“I just have to say, I love school, and last year sucked. It was really bad. You couldn’t focus, and it was hard to communicate with teachers because they couldn’t see my face,” Hempel said. “If we can go back to normal school, it would be great for everybody”

Board member Matthew Christiansen originally made a motion to accept the protocols as originally presented, including allowing the superintendent’s office to make decisions on changes to the protocol as they became necessary, but the motion died for lack of a second. Brittni Flood, another member of the board, then put forth a motion to adopt the protocols as presented but to move the responsibility of changes from the superintendent to the board.

Dwight Stadler addresses the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night. The board approved a set of back-to-school protocols for the 2021-22 school year. Those protocols did not include starting the school year with a mask requirement. Stadler, along with several other audience members, spoke out against any potential mask mandates in the future. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Dwight Stadler addresses the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night. The board approved a set of back-to-school protocols for the 2021-22 school year. Those protocols did not include starting the school year with a mask requirement. Stadler, along with several other audience members, spoke out against any potential mask mandates in the future. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Ultimately, the board is held responsible for such decisions, she said.

“I think it is important that the board makes the decisions on the protocol as things develop,” Flood said.

Shawn Ruml, another member of the board, said he did not believe it was necessary to start the school year with a mandate, but would reconsider if current infection numbers rise.

“At this time, I don’t want a mask mandate. Our weekly cases are low. Davison County is low,” Ruml said. “I don’t want a mandate now, but I’m willing to do it if cases increase.”

The current COVID-19 case count in Davison County stands at 11 cases and is classified as experiencing moderate community spread. According to the South Dakota Department of Health website, 37 are currently hospitalized in South Dakota with the disease.

Kevin Kenkel, another member of the board, said he was in favor of beginning the school year with a mask mandate in place. The emergency of the Delta variant, in particular, was concerning to him, he said.

“I think we should require masks. I was so wanting to start the year with no masks, but the developments with the recent delta variant and increase in cases, I think we should require masks starting at the beginning of the school year,” Kenkel said.

Matthew Christiansen, another member of the board, agreed that the delta variant was a concern and said he supported the original motion of having changes in the hands of the superintendent as opposed to the board itself.

“A middle way is to allow them when needed and not when they are not,” Christiansen said.

The board eventually voted for the proposed protocols but with the board making decisions on future changes.

Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, said he supported the board in its decision. The intent of having the superintendent make the call on protocol changes was to expedite quick action if needed. The process of going to the board to make changes is slower, but will still provide an option to adjust as the school year goes on.

Sonja VanErdewyk addresses the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night. The board approved a set of back-to-school protocols for the 2021-22 school year. Those protocols did not include starting the school year with a mask requirement. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Sonja VanErdewyk addresses the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night. The board approved a set of back-to-school protocols for the 2021-22 school year. Those protocols did not include starting the school year with a mask requirement. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

“I have no concerns. I was trying to set a process where we could react as things change. For example, I make weather calls. Weather calls have to be made quickly. This is a slower process. I think the board made a good decision. There’s no way in a situation like this that this is going to be this way forever. And they created a process where we can make those adjustments, and I’m very happy with it,” Graves said.

A board of education has to announce special meetings 24 hours in advance of said meeting.

Personnel

The board approved the following personnel items:

  • The new certified hires of Trevor Krugman, sixth grade teacher and assistant freshman football coach, $44,750 teaching, $2,300 coaching and Allison Day, 7th/MCL science at Mitchell Middle School, $42,750. All certified hires are effective 2021-22 school year.

  • The new classified hires of Tarilynn Gerlach, library assistant at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, $14.50, effective Aug. 1; Jennifer Krause, general food service worker at Mitchell High School, $12.75, effective Aug. 13; Wesley Kroupa, Title VI tutor/ISS monitor, $14.50 @ 8 hours per day, effective Aug. 18; Erica Weier, Infinite Campus administrator/registrar/Second Chance High business administrative assistant, $15, effective Aug. 23; Lena Tschoepe, paraeducator at Mitchell High School, $11.75 @ 7 hours per day, effective Aug. 18; Kim Strehlow, general food service worker at L.B. Williams Elementary, $12.75 @ 5.5 hours daily, effective Aug. 16; Kayla Peterson, paraeducator at Longfellow Elementary, $11.75, effective Aug. 18 and Jennifer Malatare, paraeducator at Mitchell High School, $11.75 @ 7.25 hours daly, effective Aug. 18.

  • The other hire of Mary Marchand, Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary Strong Interventionist, $25,000 @ 19 hours per week, effective Aug. 1.

  • The sixth class assignment of Roxy Ross Loudenburg, effective Aug. 1.

  • The transfers of Laura Starr, paraeducator at Longfellow Elementary to paraeducator at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and Charlene Hilkemeier, paraeducator at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary to paraeducator at Longfellow Elementary. Both transfers effective the 2021-22 school year.

  • Changes in hours for Kayla Hohbach, 7 hours daily food service at Mitchell High School to 8 hours daily at Mitchell High School and Kisa Bruch, 5.5 hours daily food service at Mitchell High School to 7 hours daily at Mitchell High School. Both hours changes effective Aug. 18.

  • The resignations of Matthew Schilling, ISS supervisor and Title VII tutor, effective 2021-22 school year, and Leah Christensen, head cook at Mitchell High School, effective July 30.

  • The MTC new hires of Kevin Herbst, help desk technician, $22, effective July 28; Janel Nicolaus, adjunct instructor BUS 101 and BUS 120 fall semester 2021, $4,500, effective Aug. 23; Jenna Vavra, adjunct instructor AMI 210 fall semester 2021, $4,000, effective Aug. 23; Rebecca Harvey, SLPA online adjunct (2021-22 school year), $3,000, effective Aug. 23; Angie Hanson, SLPA lab adjunct (2021-22 school year), $3,000, effective Aug. 23; Sara Delaney, SLPA online adjunct (2021-22 school year), $3,000, effective Aug. 23; Karl Gosmire, SLPA online adjunct (2021-22 school year), $3,000, effective Aug. 23 and Kasey Thomas, Rad Tech clinical adjunct fall semester 2021, $3,920, effective Aug. 23.

  • The MTC resignations of Kelsey Ziebart, admissions representative, effective Aug. 6 and Sara Holzer, admission representative, effective Aug. 13.

The next meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education is scheduled for Aug. 23.