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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If the state Superintendent of Public Instruction approves the application for a waiver, the first day of school in Colfax next fall will be August 25 instead of September 1.
The Colfax Board of Education held a public hearing about the resolution authorizing the district to apply for an exemption at the March 21 meeting.
About a dozen people attended the meeting.
By state law, school must start September 1, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator.
When state law was changed regarding the beginning of the school term on September 1, one of the reasons given was that resort areas in the state, such as Wisconsin Dells, needed their high school aged employees to work until Labor Day. If the students were required to go back to school earlier, it would harm the economy of the resort areas.
As many people have likely noticed, a school start date of September 1 is most often before Labor Day, although it came close in 2019 when Labor Day was on Monday, September 2.
The state Department of Public Instruction allows some exemptions from September 1 as the first day of school for construction projects, Yingst said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of learning loss among students, the Colfax school district would like to make up for some of that lost time, he said.
In the Colfax school district, 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, Yingst noted.
The Colfax school district went to remote learning in March of 2020 for the remainder of the school year when schools were closed statewide in Wisconsin because of the pandemic.
Colfax resumed in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year and for the 2021-2022 school year.
In the last two years, the Colfax school district has not had to close down at any time because of the pandemic, although many students, teachers and other staff members have had to quarantine because of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or because of COVID-19 infections.
Starting school five days early will have benefits for the students, Yingst said.
In addition to working toward mitigating some of the learning loss due to the pandemic, athletic practice starts in August, and there are football games at the end of August, he said, adding that if school is not in session, the football games are not very well attended, and it is difficult for the football team to be enthusiastic about playing without fans in the bleachers.
The proposed school calendar for 2022-2023 reflects the five day earlier start with a spring break in March from March 20 to March 24, Yingst said.
School district employees and parents might like to schedule spring break vacations, and setting the break toward the end of March puts the vacation time after the end of winter sports, he said.
After spring break, then spring sports will begin, Yingst said.
In response to a question from the audience, if the waiver is approved and school can start on August 25, students will be required to attend school for the earlier-scheduled five days, Yingst said.
Students will not be required to attend any open house activities or orientation days scheduled before August 25, he said.
In addition, by starting five days earlier, school would finish sooner in the spring.
“I’ve always said not much learning takes place in June,” Yingst said, adding that there does not seem to be a benefit to having school past Memorial Day.
According to the school calendar for the 2022-2023 school year, the last day of school would be May 26.
The high school play has typically been held the last weekend in March. Would the school play be moved back, too, then? asked Jaclyn Ackerlund school board member.
When to schedule the school play is under discussion right now, Yingst said.
Another member of the audience asked if the spring break in March would coincide with other school districts in the area.
Some spring breaks in the surrounding school districts are the same week, some are earlier and some are later, Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved the resolution authorizing and directing the district administrator to apply, on the behalf of the Board of Education, for an exemption to allow school in Colfax to start August 25, 2022.
The Colfax Board of Education also unanimously approved the school calendar for the 2022-2023 school year with the first day of school on August 25, 2022, and the last day of school on May 26, 2023.
An open house is scheduled for August 22; a fall break/staff recess will be October 14 to 17; Thanksgiving vacation will be November 23 to 27; holiday vacation will be December 22 to January 2; Easter break will be April 7 to 10.
School has been operating in a fairly normal manner, Yingst told the school board.
The plexiglass dividers are gone, and the water fountains have been turned on, he said.
There have been no COVID cases among students or staff in the last several weeks, Yingst said.
The school district has not been using the harm reduction plan, although the plan must stay on the school district’s website because of money the school has received from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), Yingst said.
Yingst said he was recommending that the school board shelf the harm reduction plan.
The federal requirement for everyone to wear masks on the school buses also is no longer in effect, he said.
One “new normal” because of the pandemic is the extra effort at sanitizing, Yingst noted.
An independent company is still set up in the school to do COVID-19 testing, and they have asked about staying set up for testing until July, he said.
If people are traveling for vacations, airlines and some destinations are requiring negative COVID tests, so the testing site would remain as a convenience for the community, Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved removing the Back-to-School plan from the monthly agenda with the acknowledgment that the plan must remain on the school district’s website because of the ESSER funds.
It was not clear from the discussion whether the plan would be revived if there is another surge in COVID-19 cases, since many epidemiologists and virologists say the pandemic is not over, and it is not a matter of “if” another variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will emerge, but “when.”
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Approved an application for the Early College Credit Program. So far, only one student has applied for the program.
• Approved the CESA 10 shared services agreement in the amount of $19,600 for educational technology services.
• Approved the CESA 11 shared services agreement. School districts can contract with any of the 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies in the state, although Colfax is assigned to CESA 11. A total amount for the cost of the contract was not included in the school board packet. There are no changes to the contract, Yingst said.
• Approved NEOLA policy updates that were statutory or technical requirements for the following policies: definitions; electoral process; vacancies; board member behavior and code of conduct; officers; notice of regular meetings; criminal history record check and employee self-reporting requirements; curriculum development; human growth and development; criminal history record check; drug-free workplace; physical examination; open enrollment program; promotion, placement and retention; cost principles (spending federal funds); control of casual-contact communicable diseases.
• Learned that the FFA Banquet will be held Wednesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.
• Learned that the National Honor Society Banquet will be held Wednesday, March 30, at 7 p.m. in the Martin Anderson Gymnasium.
• Learned the Senior Awards Banquet will be held Wednesday, May 5 at 7 p.m.
During a closed session, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Reviewed staff retirements for JoAnn Mayfield, Title I teacher, and Linda Cook, custodian.
• Reviewed staff resignations for Emily Miller, middle school/high school Spanish teacher, and Brittany Halvorson-Canfield, middle school/high school science teacher.
• Review staff hires for Kara Noll, elementary special education cross categorial teacher; Brianna Graff, middle school/high school special education cross categorical teacher; Jesselyn Nadolny, middle school/high school Spanish teacher; Allison Mulroy, special education early childhood teacher.
• Reviewed future athletic coaching positions, including the resignation of Pamela Meredith as the varsity volleyball coach; hiring Kari Sedivy as the varsity volleyball coach; the resignation of Matthew DeMoe as varsity football coach; the hiring of Joseph Beranek as varsity football coach; and the hiring of spring athletic coaches.