ELY – In a brief meeting Monday night, and with little debate, Ely school board members voted to immediately lift the COVID-19 face mask requirement on campus, and welcomed an advocate for book …
ELY – In a brief meeting Monday night, and with little debate, Ely school board members voted to immediately lift the COVID-19 face mask requirement on campus, and welcomed an advocate for book banning into their ranks.
A recommendation came from the Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council last month to rescind the protective face mask mandate. The updated public health protocol continues to just recommend the wearing of face masks by students, staff and visitors on school campus, but does not require it. The new protocol took effect on Tuesday, March 1.
In addition, ISD 696 is following new CDC guidelines, effective Feb. 25, that no longer require the wearing of face masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early child care programs.
All the metrics put in place by the Ely school district to dial back the coronavirus mitigation strategies were also stricken from the ISD 696 Safe Learning Plan, effective immediately.
School board members agreed to keep one exception in the COVID-19 plan: If a classroom or program shows an increase of positive (COVID-19) cases, district administration reserves the ability to require students and staff to wear face masks for a specified amount of time.
In addition, when students are in the school nurse’s office with COVID-19 symptoms, students will be provided with a mask to wear while screening for symptoms.
Interim Superintendent John Klarich highlighted the changes to the Safe School Plan to four of six school board members at the study session and special board meeting, all of whom voted in favor of the new protocols.
Board chair Ray Marsnik continues to recover from injuries received in a vehicle accident and was absent from the meeting. Board member Darren Visser has moved out of the school district and is no longer eligible to serve on the Ely school board.
Temporary board chair Rochelle Sjoberg asked school board members for discussion on the Safe Learning Plan changes. No one spoke. At the special meeting, a motion to adopt the changes was made by Tony Colarich and supported by Tom Omerza. Sjoberg, Colarich and Omerza were joined by Holly Coombe in voting to adopt the updated Safe Learning Plan.
New board member
With Visser’s resignation, the board addressed the board vacancy, appointing Chad Davis to fill the seat until the upcoming November election.
Just two district residents, Scott Bunney and Davis, applied for the job. They were both interviewed by the board during Monday’s study session, prior to board members voting on their choice to fill the position in a special meeting.
Following the brief interviews, school board members tallied the candidate’s answers and identified their top selection. Given a chance to discuss the merits of each candidate, school board members declined to do so. Colarich made a motion to appoint Davis, which was supported by Coombe.
Davis was unanimously appointed to the temporary position. He will take his seat in April.
Davis gained notoriety in the Ely school community last April when he voiced his objection to a book on the eleventh-grade English required reading list and requested the board remove the book from the curriculum. Davis, who has a son in the class, initially asked the board for clarification on how the book came to be included in the curriculum and pushed for its removal.
The book in question, “I Am Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown, was published in 2018 by Crown Publishing Group.
In raising his objections at the time, Davis said, “I read the book. (It is) a book filled with hate speech, racial division, anti-white rhetoric and cancel culture all rooted in critical race theory. This book isn’t written well, nor has it any literary value. It is one person’s jaded perspective about a specific race.”
Following an extensive appeal process and review of the reading material, the book remains part of the curriculum at ISD 696.
When asked why he was interested in being a member of the Ely school board, Davis said, “I’m looking to be more involved not only in the community but into the school itself. To be completely transparent, we’ve always been involved with our kids, academically and athletically. It really was an eye-opening experience to start taking a deeper dive into what is going on (in the school district).”
Davis’s spouse, Tiffany, is an elementary school teacher in the Ely district.
He read a prepared statement to describe the role of a school board.
“Behind every school district is a successful visionary, an effective school board committed to student achievement and the environment they are learning in. Without the burden of daily administrative tasks, school boards are uniquely poised to access academic performance, establish a vision for progress, collaborate on strategies for goal attainment, and maintain a clear commitment to what is required for success.”
He said the strengths he can bring to the school board include “offering a perspective based on diversity that was built over time.” He has lived in Illinois, California, Minnesota and North Carolina. He has had involvement in “multiple businesses” and has owned his own business for 12 years.
Educationally, Davis said he has background in architecture, and holds licenses in life insurance and health insurance and real estate. “I think all those things, at some point, have some sort of impact on schools and the school district itself,” he said.
When given a hypothetical scenario on how he would handle a parent calling him to complain about too much homework, Davis responded, “I would most definitely defer back to the teacher and advise that they talk to the teacher.”
In an apparent reference to his recent book-banning efforts, Davis added, “One thing that I learned through this process in the last year-and-a-half is that there is a process that you follow when communicating to the teacher, to the principal, to the board, to the superintendent. There is a reason why that process is there and why it should be followed.”
Davis’s opinion of ISD 696 remaining an independent school district focuses on “what’s best” for students. “If that means a discussion needs to be had about consolidation, then that discussion needs to be had,” he said. “There is a lot of value in being an independent school district, but at the same time, I see the benefits of consolidation, and that may not necessarily be in the best interests of our school.”