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School board grapples with streamlining advisory council

Proposal would eliminate community voices in setting COVID protocols

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/1/21

ELY - School board members here are in the midst of a discussion to “sunset” the current Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council (ELSPAC) and to replace it with a newly formed, more …

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School board grapples with streamlining advisory council

Proposal would eliminate community voices in setting COVID protocols

Posted

ELY - School board members here are in the midst of a discussion to “sunset” the current Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council (ELSPAC) and to replace it with a newly formed, more streamlined committee.
The advisory council at ISD 696 was formed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to consult with the Ely school administrators as they responded to ever-changing learning and public health protocols throughout the school year.
As the 2021-22 school year was about to start, with increasing reported cases of COVID-19 after a relatively quiet summer and growing vaccine distribution, administrators made an abrupt decision to require protective face masks on school campus.
Immediate pushback came in the form of a petition to the school board to eliminate the face mask mandate. School board members and school staff endured verbal attacks and disrespectful behavior from some community members at school board meetings and on social media.
The school board rescinded the administration’s ability to implement such measures, even as the ELSPAC group navigated through ping-ponging COVID-19 case rate reports and scientific and public health advice to recommend “safe” protocol metrics to guide decisions for easing public health measures. The board now wants a concrete plan to vote on for when face mask requirements will be dropped at school.
A recent recommendation from board member Tony Colarich came in the form of a brief statement at last month’s study session.
“The ELSPAC is polarized and stalemated. We need a committee that is streamlined and makes decisions in a timely manner,” he said.
He proposed at the Dec. 13 school board meeting that the ELSPAC “sunset,” along with its 18 members, and a new committee be formed consisting of the ISD 696 superintendent, both school principals and a school board member.
Board member Darren Visser said his biggest concern with Colarich’s proposal was the fact that different voices from the community would be silenced.
He added that the original recommendation to form the advisory council was to include community members, school staff, teachers, students, parents, and local health professionals to advise and consult, who would be a part of the conversation as school administrators navigated through public health protocols and learning safety procedures.
As COVID-19 rages through the Ely community and especially the Ely school population, the idea of implementing a protective face mask “recommendation” instead of a protective face mask “requirement” seems remote. The newly detected COVID-19 omicron variant adds a whole new dimension to the conversation the petition signers engaged in last September.
“By going to this (smaller council), we are excluding (the community), and that’s my biggest concern,” Visser said. “It is a tough subject. It is polarizing. But eliminating those voices doesn’t help. In my opinion it makes it worse. I don’t like seeing the community voices eliminated from this process with this proposal.”
School board member Rochelle Sjoberg said she “mirrors” some of the same concerns as Visser. “I feel that is what the council is for. I don’t think the intent was to have 100 percent agreement.”
School board chair Ray Marsnik added, “I want decisions coming from the administrative team in consultation with the advisory council and medical professionals. I look for public input. That doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to agree with them, but we have to show them the courtesy that we are listening.”
Colarich responded, “My intent with this is not to eliminate the public input or the medical input. I want something that is more streamlined and in a timely manner. Right now, we have a large committee and finding consensus is very difficult. And with COVID we need to find consensus. We need to get suggested policies brought before the board.”
No more details were provided on how Colarich’s new four-person council would get input from the community and medical professionals if they are eliminated from the advisory council.

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