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Bellwood school board passes health, safety plan

BELLWOOD — The district’s health and safety plan was approved Tuesday during the Bellwood-Antis school board meeting, but before voting on the measure, board members voiced concerns over the wording of the plan and whether it could be changed if there was an uptick in COVID cases when school resumes this month.

In order to receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money, the district must have a health and safety plan in place.

Board member Seth Sager was the first to speak out about the plan being too specific and taking up too much administrative time.

“For example, it says we will adhere to cleaning the handles on the doors and things like that,” he said. “I am concerned that it is too specific, where it is going to tie certain responsibilities and accountability to the district.”

Sager also asked about the note to notify families and close contacts if a student were to test positive for COVID-19.

“It ties up a lot of administrative time, is that still our plan?” he asked.

Middle school principal Don Wagner explained that some families in the community want to be notified when their child has been in close contact because of compromised medical conditions.

“They are fearful that their child could bring COVID-19 home,” he said.

Wagner said that last school year, teachers told administration staff what students were in close contact with a COVID-19 positive student.

Those students were then informed they were in close contact with a positive case and it was recommended they wear a mask.

“Then we notified families through the school messaging system,” Wagner said. “It was a bit of a pain, but not time-consuming.”

Superintendent Edward DiSabato added that the district will follow the latest Department of Health guidelines for the upcoming school year.

DiSabato said there are rumors the guidelines will be relaxing, which will make it easier on school districts to comply.

Sager then asked if there is an opt-in or opt-out system for parents who want to be notified when their child is in close contact with a positive case.

If parents could choose to opt out, that would ease the administration’s burden and cut back on disruptions to learning, he said.

Midway through last school year, the district was able to cut back on some work associated with contacting families about close contacts, said high school Principal Richard Schreier.

“We used to call every family and speak to someone personally, but now we just give them a paper that tells them the information,” he said.

Elementary school Principal Matt Stinson said by calling home, though, parents were given a heads-up.

“Chances are the parents are the ones getting hit because there was a time when students were not showing any symptoms,” he said.

If parents knew their child had been in close contact with a COVID-positive person, they could act quickly to mitigate the spread if they or their children showed any symptoms, he said.

COVID-19 appears to be lingering and it is predicted cases will increase when school resumes.

If that happens, board member Kevin Luensmann wondered if the health and safety plan can be updated.

Wagner said the plan was a working document that could be revised if needed.

“I’m with you Kevin, it’s lingering out there and I’m afraid when we bring everyone together en masse, we could have a situation, but I hope not,” Wagner said.

Board Vice President Kathy Burch said it’s important to be open and honest in giving information to parents.

“What they do with it is up to them, at least they have the facts to make an informed decision and I think that’s what all parents want,” she said.

To receive ESSERs funding, all school districts must follow health and safety guidelines, DiSabato said, noting the plan should be updated every six months.

As a working document, if a surge in cases becomes a reality, there is a system in place to make changes to the plan, he said.

“I hope that doesn’t happen — none of us do,” he said.

With that, the plan was approved by an eight to one vote, with Sager voting against it.

Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.

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