Back to School

Twice over the past week Amery High School housed those awaiting the announcement of what school may look like in the fall. Before District Administrator Shawn Doerfler shared the plans, the public was welcome to give comments pertaining to the situation. Those gathered expressed their thoughts on in-person and virtual learning as well as the wearing of masks.

The first to speak was Amery High School principal, Josh Gould. “I think I can say on behalf of everyone at the school district everyone misses the kids a great deal and of course everybody wants school to start. There is no substitute for face-to-face education; we have all learned that, as has our entire country. With that said, looking at the parents and staff results from the survey, it is very obvious everybody is hoping for five days back in the buildings. As the principal of this building I would like to point out that it is going to be very challenging to follow all of the guidelines and recommendations from the CDC, Public Health, etc. 480+ students in here, 40+ staff-it will be very challenging for social distancing,” said Gould.

He said the district is in no position to hire more teachers to allow for smaller class sizes. He said from his standpoint the only thing that can be done of the recommendations completely and effectively is to wear masks.

Next, Gould read a letter from High School teacher Ramona Lockwood who was unable to attend. “The CDC guidelines are very clear that masks and social distancing help reduce the spread of this deadly virus. All students and staff should be required to wear masks, except the babies and toddlers in Clubhouse. In addition, the students in grades 6-12 should have a rotation hybrid schedule so there are fewer students in the building at a time. We have invested heavily in technology over the years, now is the time we should take advantage and utilize what we have available to help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Lockwood.

She has great concerns that class sizes do not allow for social distancing.

She also asked for a virtual learning option to be implemented. “These are unusual times and we need to be flexible,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood said after speaking with her grandmother, who is almost 90, she learned that years ago schools were frequently closed due to polio and flu outbreaks. She said, “With all the technology and medical advances we have forgotten that previous generations have also lived through pandemics. It is important for us to keep perspective and keep the safety of our students, staff and community at the forefront of all of our decisions.”

High School Tara Rose spoke on behalf of herself and her husband, who teachers as well. She voiced their desire for social distancing and mask wearing. “As Mr. Gould said, we have 480+ kids. I just can’t see a way for us to social distance with the amount of students, space and staff that we have. So to me, a mask is the greatest safety precaution we have.”

Rose said her and her husband’s parents watch their children at times when they work and coach. “So to say that my husband and I are a little anxious to come back to school and put not only ourselves, but our families at risk, is an understatement. We would feel much more comfortable with stronger precautions in place,” she said.

High School staff member Heidi Williamson said, “This situation has been really hard to navigate and deal with because it is really politically charged and we are constantly seeing shifting and conflicting data and you know people can use whatever data exists to support whatever side of the argument they sit on.”

She echoed Rose’s feelings on mask wearing. “I have resigned myself to doing is the following motto: ‘Do the least harm.’ and in order to do that I asked myself, ‘What if I am wrong?’ If we wear a mask and we find out it didn’t actually help prevent the spread, then what are we wrong? We have looked silly, we may have been uncomfortable, but if we don’t require masks and we find out it did help prevent the spread-what if we are wrong?”

Stacy Bosley thanked the administration and board for the enormous amount of time they have put into the planning of re-opening schools and echoed the previous statements on mask wearing, as did high school office employee Kari Sattre who said her mother-in-law was diagnosed with COVID-19 the previous week.

On the flip side, a community member stood before the board July 13 and said, “I am going to give you two numbers: .06 and .12 microns is how small COVID-19 is. N95 masks will filter up to .3-masks don’t work.” She expressed her concern for oxygen depravation for those required to wear masks, especially school bus drivers. She said young kids would “mess with their masks” more than actually properly wearing it.

A week later, High School teacher Sam Bosley said he disagreed with statements about masks not working and said they are effective in reducing the spread of the virus.

Doerfler read a letter sent in by Tanya Seeger. “I have many concerns about Amery Schools opening during the pandemic. It appears many kids under the age of 20 experience little to no symptoms of COVID-19. If infected without symptoms, the school setting is the ideal set up for super spreading. By hosting such an environment the school district is putting the entire community at risk,” said Seeger. She wrote with hopes the school district would provide an option for virtual learning.

Dayna Prindle, a Special Education instructor for the district said it is very important for her students to have the consistency of physically being in school. She wondered though, how some of them would be able to keep on masks.

Parent Jeff Smith said, “I know my kids are going to benefit by being here and being in front of a teacher and being around friends.”

In closing community comments July 13, School Board President Chelsea Whitley said, “It sounds like we are all in agreement that students need to go back to school and that the best education is face to face. There is no debate about that. It is just a question of how do we do it?”

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