Citizens question school officials about covid issues
May 27, 2021
The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors got a bit of feedback about masks, the policy around attending sporting events, and the district's decision to provide a location for a student vaccination clinic at their most recent meeting on May 18.
Season Long, who filed last week to run for a position on the school board and was attending the meeting via Zoom, wondered why the district was hosting a vaccination site when the health department had one across the street. She asked if the school district was receiving financial or non financial incentives to offer vaccinations at the school for students who were ages 12 and up.
“I would caution you not to use our children for financial gain,” she told the board.
Superintendent Brent Freeman responded.
“We get no money for this,” he said. “We are offering it as a service to our students just out of convenience, because they are on campus at the end of the day. The only incentive is that if kids want to get it, they have the opportunity to get it, and it’s the ease of getting it on a school day.”
He added that an 18 year old can get vaccinated without parental consent, but any student younger than 18 had to turn in a consent form, or have a parent accompany them.
Long suggested there was an incentive for athletes to have vaccinated family members.
“It is my understanding that high school basketball teams are getting five passes for every student, but if they have family members who are vaccinated, they are not required to use one of the passes,” Long said. “Plus you get non-social distancing separate from the un-vaccinated.”
“That’s not quite the way that’s working out,” Freeman said. “We have a limit because of social distancing in the gym. We have a small gym. We have to follow the rules. When the state changed the rules around vaccinated people, then we could have a vaccinated section where they don’t have to be six feet apart. We do have a limit still, it’s capped, but they don’t have to follow the six foot social distancing guidance, so more people can come.”
Director Shawn Merz told Long her time was up and said he appreciated her courage.
Long was not finished, and Freeman invited her to come to the school to talk to him about her concerns.
John McKinley, who was also attending the meeting via Zoom, spoke about his experience at athletic events.
“I wear a mask to go in there and comply by your rules,” he said. “I watch those kids play. I can see nobody smile, I can see nobody cry. There is no expression on their faces. I see those kids running up and down and grabbing those masks and pulling them down and sucking for air.”
“Outside at a baseball game, I’m told I have to leave because I don’t have a mask,” he continued. “I understand that you want me to play by your rules, so I comply. The kids have no choice. They will either wear a mask or they are gone. They are not going to be in school and they are not going to be in sports.”
McKinley said he believed that the science does not show that the mask or the vaccine works. He said he thought the mask was unhealthy, and he believed that was more than his opinion.
“I think we all hear you,” Freeman said, “but at the end of the day, public schools in Washington have to follow the rules. I have a meeting several times a week with our local health department, and with our regional Department of Health representatives in Vancouver. We raise these concerns to them. We bring up all of these issues. That’s how we have to go about our business, to continue with public funding in public schools is compliance with those mandates.”
Freeman said he would welcome a written statement from the visitors to share with the public health doctor that oversees southwest Washington.
“We meet as superintendents,” he added, “and we share these same thoughts. It’s a hard thing to administer and we are pointing out a lot of discrepancies. We are following the guidance and we are pushing for a safe return to schools. At the end of the day, that’s what we hope for.”
Following public comment, the directors accepted Marc Niemeyer’s resignation as assistant football coach and head baseball coach.
Ron Wright gave an update on the Robotics Team. He said that the team had done well this year, and he was excited to share that every member of the young team had decided to return next year, and because they wanted to do better, they had committed to meeting every two weeks all summer long.
Wright talked about plans for a summer program that is being organized by the school district and 4-H, that he said would include robotics, but go beyond it, including coding, ham radios, and more, and discussed students getting academic credit for their work.
“This is an experiment,” Wright said, “but if this flies well, we will go for even stronger next summer.”
Wright said they were looking for mentors.
“There are a lot of good things going on here,” Wright said.
Directors approved the calendar for the next academic year, with school starting on September 1 and returning to a five day week.
“We’re going to be back in school next year,” Freeman said, adding that he expected there would still be a bit of guidance.
Directors approved the purchase of a new bus with a wheelchair lift and a paddle camera for $75,837, which will be covered by a transportation allotment of over $82,000 in August.
The meeting was closed for an executive session to discuss personnel issues.