The Blair Community Schools Board of Education could hold an emergency meeting as early as next week to discuss a plan to address the rising COVID-19 cases in the district.
The board discussed their concerns at length during its regular meeting Monday at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center.
As of Monday, the district had 64 students and five staff members test positive for COVID-19. Thirty-nine of those cases are at Blair High School, 10 are at Arbor Park Intermediate School, seven at Otte Middle School, four at South Primary, two at Deerfield Primary and one at North Primary.
BCS is on pace to have 700 COVID-19 positive cases this year. The district had 106 positive cases during the entire 2020-21 school year.
“I take responsibility,” Supt. Randy Gilson said. “What we're doing today is not working very well. We've got to make some adjustments.”
An ad hoc committee was to be created with board members and administrators to discuss mediation strategies. Gilson was planning to send a survey to parents to get their thoughts.
Board president Kari Loseke noted the difficult position the board is in making a decision that is best for the district.
“It's very difficult,” she said. “We're in a position where we are responsible for the safety of the students of our district. We take that very seriously. We are concerned, we're listening and I don't know how to make everybody happy.”
Parents on both sides of the masking issue spoke at the meeting.
Chelsea Kugler, who has two children in the district, pleaded for the board to keep masks options.
“I can see very near in the future that masks will be required again,” she said. “This saddens me.”
Parent Sandy Dykstra said the number of cases this school year versus last year were concerning.
“I realize this is a very contentious topic and there are a lot of opinions out there, but I feel that our kids are our first priority,” she said. “I would also state that last year we instituted these particular aspects, the vaccine wasn't available and our COVID rates were much, much lower. This year, we have the vaccine. If you would institute something with the vaccine as well as universal masking, I would say that our COVID rates would go way down. I think our kids are worth it.”
Board member Laura Ronning said she appreciated the parents who spoke and gave different points of view during the meeting.
“Each one of us is sitting here with this motto, 'Is it good for kids?' We might personally feel that it's not good for my kid to have to wear a mask, but we have to ask is it good enough for most of our kids or all of our kids,” she said. “I would just feel awful if any parent sitting here or any parent of any child in our district lost their child due to COVID or complications of COVID. I'm willing to bet that every other board member sitting around here is feeling the same way.”
Gilson said the next four to five weeks are critical as COVID-19 numbers in the state were expected to rise. The number of cases in the district now are as high as last January, he said.
“We've got to get a grip on it now because if we don't, it's going to get worse,” Gilson said.
In addition to the students, Gilson was concerned about the teachers, many of whom are older.
“The other thing that you got to think about beyond the kids is we're putting our teachers in harm's way,” he said. “We have one staff member that's not just in the hospital, they're in the ICU. It's dangerous to put our staff in harm's way for too long.”
Gilson offered the board a success story involving South Primary School, which had a number of COVID-19 positive cases on the second day of school.
“It's alarming,” he said. “There's only a little over 100 students in all at South. They're really defenseless in all of this.”
Principal Megan Harding emailed parents after learning about the cases.
“Within an email and a day of their work together at South, half of the kids the next day came back with masks,” Gilson said. “I know some will say I hate masks. It doesn't really matter what we believe in, it worked. They haven't had a COVID positive case (since).”
Gilson said the last thing he wants to do is impose a mask mandate on families and kids.
“We've got to find a middle ground,” he said. “I think people need to set aside their personal biases and beliefs and do what's best for all of our kids and all of our families somewhere in the middle.”