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BOYCEVILLE — During the Boyceville Board of Education’s monthly meeting held Wednesday, December 16, a review and update of the Boyceville School District’s learning model drew questions from one of its school board members.
District superintendent Nick Kaiser, who appeared at this month’s meeting via Zoom, had just finished taking school board members through a review and update of the district’s virtual learning model which it switched to, following the November meeting, for a three-week period leading up to the Christmas break because of increased numbers of student and staff absences caused by COVID-19 and close contact situations.
That is when board member Pete Score had a question.
“Just so I understand, so if I end up in this situation that we are considering this again, to suspend in-person learning,” began Score in reference to another district-wide virtual learning scenario. “Except for special ed, was there any other students going, coming to school?”
High school/middle school principal Tyler Moy said that there were some students that did not have internet access that did attend school during the virtual learning period but said that it was very low. He also told Score that there were also some staff members children that were learning in the school as well.
“So staff was allowed to let their children come (to school)?” asked Score.
“We had places for the staff to have their children learn here,” replied Moy.
“What purpose did that service,” asked Score.
Kaiser interjected saying that under the federal Coronavirus CARES Act, if staff could not have care for their kids they had the opportunity to ask for leave.
“We did not want to have that,” stated Kaiser. “Because we wanted our teachers with our students so we were trying to avoid that by creating that opportunity for them (staff) if they need it.”
Score asked the administration to explain that again.
Moy took the lead in responding to Score’s question.
“Under FCCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act, under which an employee qualifies for expanded family leave if the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed), certain employers are required to afford days off for their employees who are sick themselves, have a sick kid or their school or child care closes and we fell in to that group,” Moy told Score.
“We had lots of discussions about this but felt having the staff teaching all of the students in the district was very important because the people best to put in front of the students are the people that we have hired to do that job,” continued Moy.
“The only way we could guarantee that would be for us (the district) to figure out an avenue to have some of the staff’s children that needed that in the building because the opportunity to take those days off and then they would not be teaching at all,” said Moy.
“This is a luxury that the folks that I serve do not have,” responded Score. “And I wanted you to understand that so when I get asked, even by a student, why can certain students attend school and others cannot. I want to make sure I understand all of this.”
Earlier in the meeting Score also queried Bonnie Barker, the district’s director of special education and school psychologist, saying he had been asked, presumably by district residents, why special ed students have been allowed to come to school and other students aren’t.
“Could you remind me how I should answer that?” asked Score.
“Federal law,” responded Barker almost before Score could finish asking the question.
“IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” added Barker. “IDEA doesn’t look at COVID at all. It was never written for COVID and it has been recommended both through the DPI and through federal agencies that we try and maintain as much special ed services as possible.”
“If we don’t,” Barker continued. “Then we are liable as a district because we are not meeting federal statutes.”
“I was on a legal conference today,” said Barker. “While she did not want to spend a lot of time on COVID-19 cases, they are in the court. If a school district makes a good faith effort to meet the IEP (Individualized Education Plan), to the best of their ability, the courts are ruling in favor of the schools.”
“I am trying to protect the district plus provide for our students who have unique needs, and that is why they are in special education, those services that they need,” concluded Barker.
Tiffany Creek Elementary school principal DeeAnn Thompson added that while school district report cards that are released each November have been waved this year, IDEA was not. Thompson added that just because we have COVID going on, those regulations and laws pertaining to special education do not go away and the district still must report that information.
“So the answer to the question is federal law,” said Score.
“Federal law and also the state law for special education,” replied Barker.
Just prior to this exchange, Barker had informed the school board, during her administrative report, that a good portion of the district’s special education students have been attending school in person during the period when Boyceville was doing virtual learning.
“We have offered that service to them to meet their IEP goals and IEP minutes,” said Barker. “Some times we have tweaked the schedule. So like at the elementary, they were here for a half day, a good portion of them, some parents decided to keep their kids home. I would say over half of them kept their kids home. But we really encouraged the parents to consider officially letting us provide transportation once again trying to meet federal law.”
“For the kids that were here (in school) it was very successful and we helped them keep current with their homework. We have had a little more one-on-one time with them because not everyone came (to school).”
Barker also noted that teachers had reached out to those special education students that were doing remote learning and tried to connect with them. They have talked to parents if they are unable to connect with students. Barker also said the department has been holding IEP meetings via Zoom or by phone.
“I want to thank the special ed staff, they have worked very hard to make sure we are meeting all of the needs of our special ed students; sending home packets, activities and trying to be creative on how they can meet students individual needs during this situation.”
In other business, the board handled several personnel items under the action agenda. They approved the hiring of Denise Jeske as the girls’ junior varsity basketball coach; accepted the resignations of Troy Kuhn as the boys’ junior varsity basketball coach and Jacob Peterson as the middle school boys’ basketball coach before approving the hiring of Peterson as the new boys’ junior varsity coach; approved the hiring of Caleb Dotseth as the new middle school girls’ basketball coach; and the resignation of Katie Ouelette as the middle school girls’ basketball coach.
The board also approved the retirement request of Sharon Formoe as the district financial accountant effective June 31, 2021. Formoe has been with the district for nearly 25 years.
Finally, the board accepted a 2020 Community Foundation Teacher mini grant for $850 to fund a “Minds Learning BIG Ideas” project and a $500 donation from Dr. Steven and Diane Brown which will be used to provide meals to the students of the school district.