Rhonda Silence

Masks stay for now, but ISD166 is looking to the future

The School District 166 school board held another long meeting on Thursday, December 16, but they tackled some serious issues, such as the COVID-19 policies at the school and the school budget. WTIP reached out to Superintendent Chris Lindholm to learn more.

Following up on a board request at the November board meeting, Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager was in attendance at the December meeting to share the thoughts of public health on face coverings at the school. After a lengthy discussion of “data points” on positivity in the community and transmission rates, the board agreed to consider updating the school district’s face covering policy. School board member reaction was mixed. Board member Stephanie Radloff suggested removing the face-covering requirement when students return from winter break. Board member Rena Rogers expressed concern that there could be an outbreak two weeks after winter break and suggested extending the mask policy to align with that.

No change was made to the policy at this time, but the school board directed Superintendent Lindholm to draft a new policy that would include a formula for deciding when the mask policy could be removed. The “metrics” to be considered before the school board considers removing the face-covering policy are that the testing rate in Cook County must be less than 5 percent and the cases per 10,000 people is less than 15. Both of those metrics must be met for consecutive 4 weeks.

Lindholm said the policy would include a plan to go back to requiring masks if numbers go higher.

The school district is hopeful that the availability of COVID-19 test kits will help stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus. Rapid COVID-19 nasal swab antigen test kits were sent home with all ISD 166 students and families are encouraged to test their children before they return to school.

At the school board meeting, the school district also signed a joint powers agreement with Cook County Public Health to offer onsite testing at the school. A health official will now be available two days a week to conduct rapid molecular COVID-19 tests, also a nasal swab. Parents who would like their students (middle and high school only), to participate in testing have received a permission slip and should send that form back. Lindholm said this testing is especially recommended for students who are traveling for sports to other schools.

Lindholm also said eventually the school nurse could also perform these tests for students who come to the nurse’s office with symptoms.

In other business, at the allotted time, the School District held its Truth in Taxation meeting. Business Manager Lori Backlund gave a presentation showing that the school board would be increasing the school district levy by .89%.

The School Board also passed a motion to support a Safe Routes to School grant in the amount of $81,392. The grant will go to the Cook County Highway Department to make changes to the speed zone signs near the schools, to make them more consistent and easier to understand for motorists and pedestrians.*

The School District also received a request from Sawbill Villages in Tofte, a mixed commercial and housing project. In an informational handout, developer Rob Dieter said he would actually like a “no” from the school board. Dieter has received a tax abatement from Cook County to postpone payment of taxes for his new development for 15 years. This helps free up funds to make the development happen. Sawbill Village has learned that if one of the entities that would receive taxes from his development denied his request, they can go back to Cook County to ask for an abatement for 20 years.

Although complicated, school board members agreed to give a “no” vote, after Lindholm explained that if they did so, they would receive the entire taxes collected for the project. And, Lindholm noted, the county needs housing and needs families. The housing could possibly be used by teachers or school staff—or families that would have students in school in Cook County.

The school board heard an interesting report on the “World’s Best Workforce” from Principal Megan Myers. The report looks at goals for various grades. Lindholm said like many schools across the state, there were deficits in 2020. One of the things looked at is the school’s graduation rate and Lindholm said he was pleased to hear that Cook County High School had a 97% graduation rate.

The school board approved a plan for “e-learning days,” which will help the school district meet its required days of education. On days that may have previously been called “snow days,” the school will ask students to log in with their devices. Lindholm said there may be snow days may still happen, if weather comes upon the Northland too quickly. But if there is an advance notice of bad weather, parents will be notified of an e-learning day.

Lindholm said this is important to meet the required number of education days. If a snow day is called, another education day gets added to the school calendar. That is the case after the snow day earlier this winter. That will now be made up on March 25.

The School Board also heard a report from student School Board Representative Olivia Nesgoda, shared information that she had gathered from her fellow students on the school dress policy. This is something that the school board has been reviewing this fall and questions have been asked—what is the harm of wearing a hat or hood? The input she gave the board will be considered as the board again looks at the school dress code policy.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence talked to Superintendent Chris Lindholm, to learn more about all of this in-depth.

* This article has been corrected to note that the Safe Routes to School grant will be used for new signage, per Cook County Highway Engineer Robbie Hass.