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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — A letter posted on the social media platform TikTok referring to a threat to school safety on Friday, December 17, caused some Colfax parents to keep their children home from school.
The rumor of threats to school safety posted on TikTok went nationwide and gained traction in a short amount of time, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, at the Colfax Board of Education’s December 20 meeting.
Several parents of Colfax students posted on Facebook that they were keeping their children home out of concern for safety.
Schools in the Chippewa Falls school district were closed out of concerns for school safety.
Schools have been dealing with TikTok “challenges” this year, including encouraging students to take soap dispensers and to slap teachers, Yingst said.
According to news reports, the rumored potential TikTok challenge encouraged students to make violent threats concerning schools on Friday, December 17.
According to a letter Yingst posted on the Colfax school district’s Facebook page on December 16 to families in the school district, “The post appears to be part of a national TikTok trend and did not originate in our school district, nor is there any threat against our school at this time. We have heard reports from other districts that the same post is circulating in their schools. While we do not believe the threat to be credible, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously.”
The letter goes on to say, “Additionally, the district has been in contact with the Colfax Police Department and the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department regarding the post. We may have an increased police presence in our buildings on Friday as an added precaution.
“The situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats. Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families and staff. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.”
The letter also asks that if families or students become aware of a potential threat posted to social media or anywhere else to report it right away to a school staff member or a trusted adult.
Local law enforcement has a plan to deal with threats to schools, Yingst told the school board.
District administrators in Dunn County meet regularly with law enforcement officials as part of a school safety committee to keep the plans updated.
The potential threat did cause a “crisis mode” concerning the basketball game that evening, Yingst noted.
“When this stuff happens, our world stops,” he said.
On the other hand, the good news is — it is 29 weeks until summer vacation, Yingst said.
As part of his report to the Board of Education, Yingst gave a “shout out” to Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad, for the cardio pulmonary resuscitation training he had conducted for school staff.
Every other year, half of the staff takes CPR training, and Yingst said he appreciates Knutson’s expertise and his willingness to support the school by providing training.
The CPR training was on two Thursday nights, and after the second Thursday night, a Colfax staff member was in Eau Claire where a man was hit by a car, Yingst said.
The staff member was on scene and did CPR and was appreciative of the training, he said.
Not long after that, a staff member collapsed in the cafeteria at Colfax Elementary. The staff member turned out to be fine and was back at school the next day, Yingst said, adding that “there are a lot of things that go through your mind” while heading to the elementary end of the building under those circumstances.
The incident provided confirmation that the school’s emergency response team is working well, he said.
There are 882 people in the building every day, so over time, the chances increase that an emergency response will be needed, Yingst said.
Ken Bjork, school board member, asked about the emergency response team.
There are 10 to 12 on the team, and they are positioned throughout the building. Six or eight of them showed up at the elementary cafeteria, Yingst said.
The emergency response team is designated, and the members do training throughout the year, he said.
Before the early release on Friday, December 10, because of the snow storm approaching, Yingst said he had been monitoring the National Weather Service for updates.
After the bad winter a couple of years ago, which demonstrated that conditions can deteriorate quickly, “you make the best call you can,” he said.
Roads also make a difference, Bjork said.
A state highway is much different to drive on than “in the Knoepke Mountains,” he said.
Senora Miller (Emily Miller, high school Spanish teacher) delivered four letters written in Spanish asking for a snow day, Yingst said.
Yingst said he could understand about half of the letters and told the students that’s why they were getting half a snow day.
Yingst said he had never received letters in Spanish from students before and that it was a unique way to request a snow day.
Jaci Ackerlund, school board member, said she wanted to commend the Colfax High School athletic department for putting together the basketball double-header Thursday at the last minute to avoid the snow coming the next day.
Just as the last bus was coming back to the bus garage that day, the snow started falling, and fell steadily after that until there was more than a foot of snow, Yingst noted.
The Colfax school district, just like other school districts around the country, has been dealing with food supply chain issues.
Parents have been asking why the food being served at school sometimes is not the same as what is listed on the menu, Yingst said.
“It is not a lack of organization,” he said.
Colfax has been shorted on milk several times. There is plenty of milk, the problem is a shortage of cartons in which to put the milk, Yingst said.
When Bruce Fransway, the head cook for the school district, orders chicken, he might receive one-third of the order. The school district cannot decide to feed only one-third of the students, so the cooks have to find something else they can serve, he said.
When government commodities are ordered, the school district may receive one-third of the order, one-fourth of the order, half of the order — or nothing, Yingst said.
“It is out of our control. The cooks have to adjust as best they can,” he said.
A rule of thumb is when the equalized value goes up, the mill rate goes down.
The Colfax school district has kept the mill rate flat to help pay down referenda debt, Yingst said.
The mill rate in the Colfax school district is $7.98 per $1,000 of property value.
Some municipalities have experienced increases of 20 to 40 percent in property values, so the amount of school property tax on the property tax bills is going to vary, Yingst said.
The mill rate for the Elk Mound school district is $7.66 per $1,000 of property value, according to the report included in the school board packet.
The mill rate for the Boyceville school district is $8.10, while the mill rate for Glenwood City is $8.01.
Among those schools included in the report, Webster had the lowest mill rate at $4.76 per $1,000 of property value, and Elmwood and Pepin had the highest mill rate at $11.57.
The Colfax school district received a score overall of 76.0 on the “report card” from the state of Wisconsin, which compares to a score of 78.9 two years ago.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no report cards were produced for the 2019-2020 school year.
The middle school and high school overall score was 75.5, and Colfax Elementary’s overall score was 71.6.
The middle school and high school score of 75.5 compares to an overall score of 74.9 two years ago.
The overall score for Colfax Elementary is 71.6, which compares to a score two years ago of 80.7.
The Colfax school district was open every day last year, and the report card scores reflect the fact that Colfax was able to stay open, Yingst said.
Some schools were not in session at all last year, and some were closed part of the time, he noted.
The achievement for Colfax students is solid, although there is always room for improvement, Yingst said, adding that he is proud of the administrative team and school staff for all that they have been able to accomplish during the pandemic.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Learned that $2,245 had been collected on past due lunch money from previous years and that $4,140 remains to be collected. School lunches have been free the past two years during the pandemic because of action taken by the federal government. Yingst said he doubted that the free lunches would continue for the next school year (2022-2023).
• Accepted a $5,000 donation from the Sanger Foundation, which has been an annual donation to the school district for many years. The money has been used in the past for scholarships and student assistance.
• Accepted a $1,000 donation — $500 each from the Masonic Lodge and Bill and Kris Tice — for student assistance.
• Reviewed and approved the school safety plan as required under Wisconsin Act 143.
• Learned from Ackerlund, who is the school district’s representative on the CESA board, that Head Start in Colfax has been grateful for Yingst and the school district’s food service staff and passed along commendations from the CESA board. Head Start in Colfax has been having trouble at times with getting food service workers and were in a position of having nothing to feed the small children in the program, she said. When Head Start staff approached the school district, Yingst stepped in to provide meals for the kiddos, Ackerlund said. The Head Start students will be coming to Colfax as students in a few years, Yingst said, and the school district is happy to make a few more meals to help out.
• Extended condolences and appreciation for his years of service to the family of Bill LaRue, who passed away December 15 at the age of 91. LaRue taught history at Colfax High School for four years and then served as the high school principal for 29 years.
Following a closed session, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Approved the retirement of Janice Cox at the end of 2021-2022 school year as the special education early childhood teacher. Cox taught early childhood special education for four years, elementary special education for six years, second grade for two years and third grade for eight years