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New Richmond School District

The New Richmond School Board held its monthly meeting Monday night, Nov. 15. 

Here is what you need to know:

  • The board announced it has officially hired Holly Butler as its director of human resources. Butler comes to the New Richmond District after having served for the past six years as assistant director of human resources in the Hudson School District.

  • Board members approved the purchase of 534 Chromebook laptop computers for $199,296.80 and $96,000 to upgrade the closed circuit TV video system servers. Funds for both purchases were made possible by an Emergency Connectivity Fund grant awarded to the district worth $323,184. Lisa Vergin, assistant director of technology for the district, wrote the grant.

COVID surge

A number of residents took advantage of the open forum at last night’s school board meeting in New Richmond to make their cases for and against implementing stricter mitigation measures being considered by the board to combat the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Jamie Aune asked the board not to single out students who haven’t been vaccinated for close contact monitoring.

“... I think it is completely wrong that you would single out kids that haven’t got the shot especially when the focus has always been that kids are not singled for differences they may have,” Aune said. “I would also like to add that I would like to see the mask continue to be optional. There’s no mask mandate in the state of Wisconsin and people can go anywhere without a mask, so school should be no different.”

Carrisa Haberman wants the district to again mandate masks in the schools.

“The whole purpose for having these mitigation strategies is to try to keep the kids in school and learning in person because as we all know in-person is better for their educational level and mental and emotional well being,” Haberman said. “That being said, we know that no mitigation strategy in and of itself is going to get rid of COVID but this whole premise behind stacking these mitigation strategies: vaccination, contact quarantining and wearing masks will hopefully help us stay healthy and keep our kids in the school district for longer.”

She added that the DPI, Wisconsin Department of Health, CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are all recommending universal masking within the school districts.

Based on what the district had learned over the past two years dealing with COVID-19, the board put in place a tiered strategy to address the unpredictable nature of the virus heading into the 2021-2022 school year. 

So far during the current November surge, the district has averaged six unfilled teacher  roles daily and additional support staff absences due to illness as well as a lack of available substitutes in conjunction with an increase in school transmission. 

To date, the district has implemented four measures to address the surge including:

  • Limit group gatherings in areas such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, hallways and other high traffic areas.  

  • Social distancing of 6 feet when reasonably possible.  

  • Lower building capacity by not allowing visitors.  

  • Limited spectators at events in certain instances.

Monday night the board announced it will extend the Thanksgiving vacation by two days adding Monday, Nov. 22, and Tuesday, Nov. 23, to the scheduled vacation (students return to classes on  Nov. 29) to allow for a deep cleaning of the facilities and to allow everyone to take additional time away from school. 

The hope is that in that time the surge will level off or begin to decline and the district will not have to implement the next tier of mitigation, reinstate mandatory quarantine for close contacts.

“Our job is to make sure the spread within the schools is minimal. We want students in school. Our recommendation is to move to this calendar change for a couple reasons. No. 1, we saw a surge in the data. We’re trying to create a nine-day gap just to clear the air. We thought it made sense. You guys have said it, too, it's a hard time right now for various reasons. We thought more time with your families, people separated, kind of gives us a natural break with the Thanksgiving holiday. Basically with the addition of these two days we look to make this a Fall break for our families. We’re going to try this as a first step mitigation strategy. If we come back after the holiday and things continue to where we see more positive cases or these numbers continue to grow, then we’ll come back to the board and say, ‘We tried this, now we need to try x, y, z.’. There’s no recommendation to make any changes tonight. We’re hopeful this will help,” Superintendent Patrick Olson said.

A free vaccination clinic at the middle school Friday, Nov. 12, saw 170 students vaccinated. This was the first of its kind in the area. The district will begin offering district residents free COVID-19 testing at its Bridge House clinic located at 541 E. Fifth St. in early December.

The district regularly posts COVID updates on its website at: newrichmond.k12.wi.us.

Tom Lindfors is a western Wisconsin freelance journalist and former Star-Observer reporter. Contact him at tom@lindforsphoto.com

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