Elmwood will not ‘mandate’ mask wearing

For The Weekly Post

ELMWOOD – Moments into a school board meeting that had drawn an unusually large crowd of more than 30 people, Elmwood Superintendent Chad Wagner made an announcement.

“We are not going to be mandating masks,” Wagner said. “For non-vaccinated people it is recommended to wear masks. That’s it.”

From there the board went on to discuss and to vote on a return-to-school plan that features optional mask wearing and no provisions for remote learning. Instead, students who are unable to attend school will participate in what Wagner called “synchronous learning” by following a livestream of a teacher in the classroom.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of the plan, with board members Mark Davis and Kevin Windish casting no votes.

During the meeting, Davis handed out to the audience a flyer he had produced independent of the board that was entitled “Statistics you should know about COVID-19.” Davis also said he did not like language in the plan that differentiated between vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff.

Windish suggested the plan was not needed and that the district should go back to the way it operated prior to the pandemic. “Let’s let everybody be responsible for themselves,” Windish said.

The plan also includes three mitigation levels: minimal, under which positive cases are not increasing by more than 3 percent for two consecutive weeks; moderate, under which positive cases are increasing by 3-6 percent for two consecutive weeks; and substantial, for which positive cases are increasing by more than 6 percent each week.

To determine those positivity rates, Wagner said the district will consider numbers from “the Elmwood schools” instead of relying on local zip codes or Peoria County totals.

Other parts of the plan that were approved include:
• A return to the traditional bell schedule of 8:10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., with early dismissals on Wednesdays at 2:15 p.m.
• Band and choir programs will resume regular programming, including concerts and competitions.
• Field trips are OK but all-school assemblies will not be held until vaccines are available for all students.
• Use of lockers and drinking fountains will resume.
• Visitors will not be permitted during school hours.
• SHIELD testing for students who come in contact with a positive case may be added at a later date pending findings by Wagner and approval by the board. The intent of the saliva tests, Wagner said, is to allow students to remain in school even after close contact with a COVID-positive case that would normally trigger quarantining. Wagner planned to learn more about the SHIELD testing today and said he would provide more information at a later date.

In other business, the board welcomed new fourth-grade teacher Kayla Peters after approving her hire during the consent agenda.

Also approved was the hiring of: Janelle Meyers as JV volleyball coach, Luke Pratt as sophomore class sponsor, America Harmon as an elementary paraprofessional at $13 per hour, Tom Bowers as a high school social studies teacher, Karen Mottaz as part-time high school art teacher at a salary of $30,000 per year, and Charles Vermillion as part-time high school athletic director for $8,587.23 per year.

Volunteers coaches approved include: Shawn Stage, Lynne Allen and Erin Magee (JH softball); Tucker Blum, Brett Stevens and Braden Collins (JH baseball); Tricia Little and Rachel Whitney (JH cross country); Kenny Blum (HS golf); Sarah Christy (spirit squad); Jeff Coulter (trap shooting); Joe Malone and Kolby Martin (bass fishing); Lance Zaerr (HS girls cross country); Tom Gorham and Mike Sullivan (HS boys cross country); Sullivan and Jackson Harkness (HS track); Kevin Faulkner, Mike Walker, Tom Bowers and Brady Westart (football); Kayla Peters (volleyball); Eric Yarbrough (HS marching band).

The board also approved retaining Midwest Orthopaedics for sports medicine services under a three-year contract at a cost of $5,000 per year.