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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — After being closed since March 19 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colfax school district will start with a “soft opening” of the weight room and fitness center July 1.
The area beyond the weight room will be closed off with a barricade, and people coming to use the weight room will enter and exit the building through one door on that side of the building, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, at the Colfax Board of Education’s June 15 meeting.
A limited number of people will be allowed in the weight room at one time, and the machines will be sanitized and disinfected after each person uses them, he said.
Although the state Supreme Court overturned the Wisconsin Department of Health Services “Safer at Home” order May 13, school districts were exempt and were ordered to remain closed until June 30.
Using the weight room for a soft opening is a good way to get started because the room is small, and with social distancing of six feet, can accommodate only a few people, Yingst said.
The procedures for opening the weight room are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health Services, and KT Gallagher of the Dunn County Health Department, he noted.
The main point among all the sources of guidance is to maintain social distancing of six feet, Yingst said.
Opening the weight room is a “test run,” and if it goes all right, that may bode well for opening the school in the fall, Yingst said.
“We are going to take it step by step,” he said.
Another area of concern will be basketball and volleyball and how to maintain six feet between players, Yingst said.
“It’s all the little things” that go into mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19, he said.
Opening slowly, with the weight room, allows the school district to “try it out” and to train people on how to operate in the environment of a pandemic, Yingst said.
“What’s next?” asked Andrew De Moe, school board member.
The big question is what will happen with football and whether practice will start in August, Yingst said.
The WIAA officials (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) will probably say they want to wait and see what happens through July, he said.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19, then what? Is the whole team shut down and put into quarantine? Yingst said.
The soft opening with the weight room is “to try to get something started,” to see if the weight room can function with social distancing, he said.
In his report to the Board of Education, Yingst also talked about other COVID-19 updates.
The Chromebooks the students used for distance learning have been returned, disinfected and sanitized and treated with an ozone process, he said.
The school buildings have already been treated with ozone, and the process will be repeated at the end of August before school starts. In August, the school buses and other vehicles also will be treated with ozone, Yingst said.
Jaclyn Ackerlund, school board member, asked if the ozone treatments would be used regularly for cold and influenza season too.
Yingst said ozone would be an appropriate treatment during the typical cold and flu season.
The custodians also have cleaned the school buildings thoroughly from top to bottom, he said.
The use of the ozone treatments could become so much of a part of the routine that the school district buys its own ozone machines rather than hiring a company to come in and do the treatments, Yingst said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, “things change daily,” Yingst said.
Usually at this time of year, meetings for school district administrators slow down substantially, but this year, “public education has been tipped on its ear,” he said.
Most of the meetings Yingst has attended have been conducted virtually and include weekly Dunn-St. Croix superintendents’ meetings; weekly CESA 11 professional advisory committee meetings; weekly legal counsel meetings with the Boardman and Clark law firm; weekly meetings with the deputy state superintendent, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), the state Department of Public Instruction and other entities.
On the day of the school board meeting, Yingst also met with KT Gallagher.
The most recent health alert from the county health department allows 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, but the most important aspect of any size group is social distancing of six feet, Yingst said.
Social distancing of six feet “drives everything,” and face coverings are recommended, he said.
Unfortunately, “there is no magic silver bullet” for fighting COVID-19 at this point, Yingst said.
Ken Bjork, school board member, asked about the meetings with Boardman and Clark, since Boardman and Clark is not the school district’s regular law firm.
Boardman and Clark is providing free legal counsel and has been doing work for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) and WASDA, Yingst said.
Boardman and Clark has recently been focusing on legal interpretations regarding employees and COVID-19. For example, a generalized fear of the virus is not a reason to not come to work, he said.
Employees with underlying health conditions who are concerned about COVID-19 are in a different category, Yingst said.
After each meeting, Yingst said he comes away with about five pages of notes.
“How long are the notes relevant?” Ackerlund asked.
The relevancy of the notes can last for a couple of hours to as much as a couple of days, Yingst said.
Everything to do with COVID-19 can change so quickly. Continuity would be helpful, he said.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Received a reminder that the Colfax school district’s annual meeting will be held Monday, August 17, at 6 p.m. The regular Board of Education meeting will follow.
• Learned that the school district’s buses had passed the annual Department of Transportation inspection, which was completed in May. The bus fleet is in compliance with only a few minor issues and nothing major, Yingst said.
• Established that the audit review meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, July 13, and the budget review meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 13.
• Approved a motion to allow any remaining invoices that come in June to be paid and authorizing a budget adjustment if needed by June 30.
• Approved open enrollment applications for the 2020-2021 school year. The applications included 33 enrolling out of the district and 10 enrolling into the district. The number of applications does not mean any of the students are actually leaving the district or coming into the district, Yingst noted.
• Approved hiring Amanda Kalscheur as the Family and Consumer Education teacher. Kalscheur completed her student teaching in Colfax during the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year.
• Accepted Kemps as the milk vendor and Earthgrains as the bread vendor for the 2020-2021 school year through CESA No. 11’s food service bidding.
• Approved WIAA membership for the 2020-2021 school year. The golf cooperative has been added since the school board approved the last membership. No membership fees are due for the coming school year. Boys’ sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, track and field and wrestling. Girls’ sports include basketball, cross country, golf, softball, track and field and volleyball.