July 12, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Statements from 5 Community Members about COVID Policy at School (6:04), In-Person Learning Plan (6:23), New Interim Superintendent (6:48)

Location: West Lafayette Intermediate School

6:03 Karpick called the meeting to order. He called for a vote to approve the agenda.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:04 Karpick called for communication from the audience on current agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began). He said they would have 3 minutes and need to state if they live within WLCSC. Several community members spoke against the WLCSC proposed policy of requiring masks for students at WLES and WLIS:

For background, a few days before the school board meeting Ross Sloat emailed parents a set of slides describing the WLCSC Return to In-Person Learning plan. My one-sentence summary is that students in grades K-6 will be required to wear masks at school (unless they are vaccinated) while students in grades 7-12 will not be required to wear masks. Our neighboring school districts, TSC and LSC, are both making masks optional for all students. 

  • Melissa Donahue – She lives in West Lafayette and has no children in WL schools, though she is a nurse practitioner with her own clinic and sees many patients that attend WL schools. She gave handouts to the school board members with data supporting her view that children should not wear masks. She described why wearing a mask can be harmful for children and advocated for masks being optional for all students. She said that she is worried that mask wearing and vaccination status may make students a target for bullying. She also shared her recommendation that children not be vaccinated and that there are treatment and prevention options for COVID.
  • Katie Schmidt – She and her husband are WLCSC grads and they have 4 children in WL schools. She said she has seen an increase in depression in students at the high school and feels that it is very scary that this has not been addressed. She has a younger child who would cry because he didn’t want to have to go to school because he had to wear a mask. She has a child who needed to have a break from wearing a mask and the only place he could get a break was in a bathroom stall. When it comes to mask wearing, she wants to be able to decide what is best for her children.
  • Holly Myles – Her husband is a WLCSC grad and they have children in WL schools. She is also a nurse practitioner. She said that her son said he would prefer to attend a different school where he didn’t know anyone rather than be required to wear a mask. She shared data showing fewer COVID issues for kids and indicating that kids are not the drivers of spread. She also shared her concern with the psychological damage and anxiety caused by COVID restrictions, including mask wearing. 
  • Sarah Curl –  She has 4 children who have attended or currently attend WL schools. She said she loves our schools and that they have been good to her family. She shared that during the school year, one of her sons suffered a health attack affecting his vision. It happened the same week that he was taking the standardized testing and being forced to do this while wearing a mask, where it is harder to breath. After treatment, most of his vision has returned. However, he now has another serious medical condition and it is important that he doesn’t overheat and that he gets fresh air. She wants to choose if her child wears a mask or not.
  • Amanda Garman – She has 2 children in WL schools and 2 younger kids at home. She believes that WLCSC is the best at educating our students and she appreciates the diversity. She shared that she had a serious reaction to her flu shot this past year and can’t be vaccinated and neither will her kids. She is concerned about the policy of longer quarantines for students who have not been vaccinated than those who have been vaccinated. She does not want her child at the high school to be put in this position because she worries it will make her child stand out. Her child at WLIS is asking to switch schools if he has to wear a mask. She said that she is not requesting that masks be prohibited, but is asking that mask wearing be a choice rather than a requirement.

6:23 Sloat talked about the Return to In-Person Learning plan. On June 23, there was a meeting with Killion, Ohlaut, Sloat, Dr. Adler (Tippecanoe Health Officer), county health officials, TSC leaders, LSC leaders, and area private schools leaders. Health guidelines from Tippecanoe County and the Indiana Department of Health were presented. There was an internal meeting on June 29 with principals, school nurses, teacher union representatives, school corporation doctor, legal counsel, school board officers, Killion, Ohlaut, and Sloat. They developed a draft plan. On July 8, they posted the plan to the school district website and emailed it to families. He said that we have a month until school starts and the plan could change if needed. The key points are:

  • In grades K-6 (WLES and WLIS), masks are required for unvaccinated students and staff when not eating as well as for all visitors. Vaccinated individuals may wear masks if they prefer.
  • In grades 7-12 (WL Jr/Sr HS), masks are not required but are encouraged for unvaccinated students, staff, and visitors. Vaccinated individuals may wear masks if they prefer.
  • School buses and CityBus require masks for everyone.
  • Quarantine through contact tracing for those who are not vaccinated
  • Field Trips will be a principal decision and may vary situation by situation.

Witt asked Sloat to describe what the process would be for revisions. Sloat responded that he would seek recommendations from Dr. Adler and the Board of Health and the same internal committee that wrote the plan would meet to discuss revisions to the plan. Karpick added that after approving the reopening plan last summer, they made revisions before the start of the school year.

I think our school board missed an opportunity to show the community their willingness to seek input. I appreciated that Sloat emailed the plan out to parents four days before the school board meeting, but I wish the school leaders would have gathered input before voting to approve the plan. Whether or not you like this plan (I think more people like it than not), the process feels too much like last summer’s reopening plan announcement where the school board permitted community members to comment, but did not respond or address any of their concerns before voting to approve the plan (6 to 1). Last summer, it took community outcry and petitions to get the school board to make some needed changes. I had hoped that the process this summer would be different.

Yin said that she appreciated that the plan was emailed several days before the school board meeting and said she was contacted by several people who support the plan. She asked for clarification about how the school district will verify vaccination status for students as WLIS and WLES. Karpick responded that school nurses can use the Children and Hoosier Immunization Registry Program (CHIRP) to verify vaccination status. Sloat agreed that the school district has access, but said that he hopes we can use the honor system. Reiling said that vaccination status is private information and stated that the school district cannot disclose who has or has not been vaccinated.

Students will be able to deduce the vaccination status of their peers from observing school quarantines. This type of disclosure could lead to instances of discrimination. My view is that the plan should include actions that the school district will take to reduce instances of mask-based or vaccination-based discrimination.

Austin pointed out that all the community members who spoke at the beginning of the meeting were against the mask requirement, but said that she had earlier received 17 emails in support of the plan. Karpick said he received 24 emails in support of the plan and said that the focus is to get kids back in school. He felt that the plan would help the majority feel comfortable doing that. He said up to 38% of students were in remote learning last year. 

Yin asked about the elearning option and asked for more information about how a medical condition would be verified. Sloat said that a family physician would document the medical condition and then school administrators would review to see if it meets the standard for remote learning. For high school students, there is a remote learning provider that WL has used in the past (same provider that TSC and LSC are using) and students would likely be served by this third party. K-6 students will be handled individually by principals depending on numbers. Sloat said that if the number of remote learning students in grades K-6 is high, they may need to hire a remote learning teacher. Sloat asked Ohlaut to share his view as a classroom teacher as well as his perspective from the business office in relation to remote learning.

Ohlaut said he was a french teacher for 17 years. Last year, he taught remotely the first semester and said that when he returned to the classroom the second semester he realized how important it was to be there in person. There were students who were nervous to return to in-person instruction last semester and he thinks we will see the same thing this fall, but he expects that our students, teachers, and administrators will handle that well. 

Yin then shared some concerns she has heard from community members. This is a diverse community and that is evident in the different opinions on masks, vaccines, and the risks associated with COVID. Parents are concerned that kids may be discriminated against if they choose to wear a mask at the high school.

Schott stated that he thinks that this year is going to be tougher than last year was. Last year, we had one set of rules that applied to everyone and we were all just trying to survive. This year, we are further along, but still have a lot of questions.

Karpick called for a vote on the approval of the Return to In-Person Learning plan. 

    Voted 7 of 7

I was happy that the school board members had an active discussion about this plan. I especially appreciated the concerns shared about our students’ mental health and possible discrimination related to mask wearing and vaccination status. We have a great community, but we have seen some discrimination issues in our schools and community. I would like to hear more from our school leaders about how these concerns will be addressed. I would also like to see our students be engaged in conversations about discrimination and mental health.

6:48 Sloat asked for approval of a new interim superintendent. Killion retired at the end of June and Sloat said that he only intended to serve for a short period of time, hence the need to appoint a new interim superintendent. At the June school board meeting, they hired a consulting company, Administrator Assistants, to help with the superintendent search. This company made the recommendation for who to hire as the new interim superintendent. Sloat then turned things over to Steve (Wit) Wittenauer, co-founder of Administrator Assistants.

Wittenauer said that when they recommend interim superintendents, they try to find someone local. He recommended Mike Pettibone, who lives in the Hawks Nest neighborhood near Battle Ground. He was a superintendent for 11 years and has 30 years working in education. He will begin on July 20 and serve through December 31, 2021. Wittenauer said the search for the new superintendent should begin soon and he hopes to have the search complete and ready for the school board’s approval by the November school board meeting. Karpick said that there is an executive school board meeting on July 21st to begin the process for the superintendent hire. He said there would be public and administrative input in the process and then called for a vote to approve hiring Pettibone.

Voted 7 out of 7

Very little was shared about Pettibone at the meeting. I found some news stories online that describe his background. Pettibone was a school teacher in Plymouth and a principal in South Bend. He retired in 2013 after a decade serving as superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools. During his time as superintendent, Mitch Daniels appointed him as a member of the State Board of Education. After his retirement, he worked as an education consultant. In 2014, he was hired as interim superintendent for LaPorte Schools. In 2015, he was a finalist for the superintendent position at Niles Community Schools in Michigan. I liked the way this newspaper article described their search process: “Pettibone was one of three candidates chosen by the board to come back for [a second] round. . . As outlined by interim Superintendent Michael Lindley, the next step in the process of finding a new superintendent is a second round of interviews set for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each of the finalists will spend a day in the district, touring buildings and meeting with staff and others in the community. Each day will culminate with an interview set to start at 6 p.m.” I hope our school board will use a similar process and give every teacher in our schools the opportunity to attend a meeting with each of the finalists and provide input.

6:51 Karpick recognized April McClure, administrative assistant to the superintendent, who was not in attendance. She will be leaving on July 23rd and served for about 10 years. I have interacted with McClure several times and am grateful for all the service she has given to our school district. 

6:52 Karpick adjourned the meeting

Future Meetings (calendar link)

  • Monday, August 2nd at 6:30pm at WLIS

Streaming: YouTube

Attendance: 7 of 7 School Board Members (Yue Yin, Alan Karpick, Karen Springer, Bradley Marley, Thomas Schott, Rachel Witt, Amy Austin); Stephen Ohlhaut, Assistant CFO; Robert Reiling, Jr., Lawyer; Ross Sloat, Interim Superintendent

Audience: Several parents, a few teachers, administrators, and news outlets.

This is not the official minutes from the school board meetings. I am a parent of WLCSC students and my thoughts are given in italics. Previous agendas, minutes, and audio recordings can be found at the WLCSC website.

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