New Covid Policy Highlights Nearly Five Hour School Board Meeting

All schools that are above a 5% Covid positivity rate are required to mask for 30 days or until they drop below the percentage

The+WSD+Board+of+Education+meets+for+the+first+time+since+they+installed+a+30-day+masking+policy+combatting+the+high+positivity+at+Duello+Elementary+School.

Sean Bruce

The WSD Board of Education meets for the first time since they installed a 30-day masking policy combatting the high positivity at Duello Elementary School.

Sean Bruce, Reporter

The Holt High School Auditorium was once again filled with an audience eager to make sure the Wentzville School Board Of Education hears their voice. High attendance accompanied the tense energy at the Sept. 16 board meeting. As the Board of Directors took their places on the stage, everyone settled into their seats for a long night.

Before the general meeting began, a tax rate hearing was on the agenda. Mr. Rick Angevine, the district’s District chief financial officer, provided a presentation on the new district tax rate. The district is experiencing an upward trend in revenue and Angevine suggested that we drop the district tax rate 21 cents to $5.0416. The board swiftly approved the new rate as most of them had pledged to lower taxes when they were each elected into their positions. Following the hearing, the regular meeting was called into session.

Michael Oliva is recognized by Dr. Cain for his success as a Business Teacher and DECA Advisor. (Sean Bruce)

District Student Achievement Recognition  

The first items on the docket were recognition of the achievement of district students and staff. Michael Oliva, a teacher at Timberland and 24-year DECA advisor, was the first to be brought up for recognition. Oliva won the distinction of Missouri Marketing Teacher of the Year.

Next up was Kamden Hill, a Timberland senior. Hill is a highly involved student serving as the StuCo president, NHS member, vice president of the Black Student Union, and track and field athlete. He was recognized for attending Boys Nation as a Missouri delegate for his success at Boys State, serving as the pro tempore of the state gathering. At Boys Nation, Hill got an inside look at the federal government and how it works. After being recognized, he thanked everyone who helped him achieve all that he has in a touching speech.

Timberland senior Kamden Hill was recognized by Dr. Cain (left) and the school board for attending Boys Nation as a Missouri delegate for his success at Boys State, serving as the pro tempore of the state gathering. (Sean Bruce)

Public Forum 

The public forum and its well-known drama was once again overfilled with sign-ups, like usual only the first 10 could speak.

Donald Looney, a 2021 Board of Education candidate,  was among the speakers. He commended the board for their efforts in these difficult times, but also had some critiques. He pleaded for more involved contact tracing but focused his speech mostly on masks. As a hands-on worker at the General Electric plant, Looney said that he felt fine in a mask during long manual labor and that masks in schools should be a non issue even though he recognized that nobody likes to wear masks.

Speakers Erin Weisner and Julie Scott had similar points of view, saying that we need to listen to doctors and look at all information provided to us. All three speakers were heckled by the anti-mask-dominated crowd.

Holt Junior Ellie Kleffner returned after speaking at the last regular board meeting. This time she did not come with any other agenda but self-advocacy. Kleffner was covered on a local news station and brought up the several hundred hate comments directed towards her because of that coverage. Kleffner was called selfish and uninformed for her low restriction stance, but reminded everyone that she is a child and has a right to share her opinion. Kleffner, the only student to speak that night, closed out her speech with a message of unity. Most other speakers that night were returning speakers repeating their anti-mask stances.

Following the public forum, the consent agenda was approved. Item 13.17 on the agenda was a musical theatre international contract for Frontier Middle School. FMS will be putting on a production of Disney’s Moana Jr. updates and analysis for our districts Horizons and Summer School Programs immediately followed. 

Two presenters from a company called Trane were called to give an energy update for the district. The Board of Education signed a contract with Trane under the pretense that the company would save us a guaranteed dollar amount on energy costs. Trane guaranteed a savings of at least $353,332, the district saved $386,000 beating the guaranteed amount by around $33,000.

All items on the new business agenda were approved with two exceptions: student representation on the board, and seating. 

Student Representation

The entire district seemed satisfied if not elated for the chance of student representation on the school board, and students were ready for their voices to finally be heard. But in true Board of Education fashion, no motion was made and all hope for a student rep. this year was dashed. 

Auditorium Seating

A motion to approve new seating in the Holt High School Auditorium was denied altogether when the motion was taken to a vote. Director Dan Brice was the driving force behind this denial.

Food Supply

Food supply chain shortages caused the Board to move down the bidding list to be able to feed students in the coming weeks. Whether the new food providers are able to feed the district or not will be seen as the winter months roll in.

COVID-19 Update and Other District News

Before the final section of the evening, which most people were there for, Director Erin Abbott called for a 10 minute recess to move around before the longest and largest part of the meeting began. The audience immediately flew into an uproar, with one angry man in attendance angrily shouting, “You know why we’re here!” The motion to adjourn for 10 minutes was passed unanimously.

When everyone gathered together again for the main event. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife, you could hear a pin drop as the anxiety of what policy the Board will place sank into everyone. The North Point High School and Liberty High School football field naming, Covid leave policy, and classroom renovation. Directors Schaper and Garber both suggested names for the North Point High School sports complex, but ultimately all that came of that discussion was a committee tasked with creating procedures to name WSD facilities that needed names. The new Covid leave policy was approved with ease, and the Holt High School industrial tech classroom renovation was approved as well.

District Superintendent Dr. Curtis Cain gave a presentation on where he recommended the district go in the face of high positivity rates at elementary schools. Cain reminded everyone watching that his main goal, as well as the district’s, was to keep students in school five days a week. With that in mind, he recommended that we should possibly start phasing in masks and limiting school visitors for student safety. He then suggested that we remain at a level for most mitigation strategies with a few tweaks at schools with a positivity rate higher than 2%.

The board seemed to concur with most of these recommendations, but had an issue with the 2% rate. Directors Goodson, Schaper, and Brice spent the better part of an hour negotiating a higher threshold of positivity for mandatory masking. Goodson settled on 5%, which is the threshold that Saint Charles County recommends a school be shut down at. After motions failed at 2% and 3.5% thresholds, the Board finally decided that the 5% positivity threshold was the appropriate percentage to instill the masks and distancing policies in place. The final motions made were to let the 2% threshold expire and move it to 5% with masks remaining optional, to be revisited on Sept. 28. The motion was unpopular on both sides, the anti-mask crowd didn’t want any restrictions at all, and the pro-masks crowd wanted a lower threshold to be approved.

After such an unpopular motion, Board of Education President Betsy Bates commented, “It is our job as a board to work in collaboration with district administration to make decisions that continually move our district forward and allow our students the best opportunity for success. There is varied opinion across the spectrum on how best to do that on this particular topic.” She continued, “While I know many are looking to the board to land elsewhere, it is also important for us not to continually pivot on our decisions. Waiting to see what new guidance comes from the county/state allows us to make continued decisions with the most up-to-date information in front of us.”

The board meeting was quickly adjourned unanimously, thus putting an end to the ridiculously long meeting. The meeting clocked in at around five hours. All further information, presentations, and documents are available on BoardDocs.