Nokomis Back To School Plan Passes On 5-2 Vote

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The regular August meeting of the Nokomis School Board meeting was called to order on Tuesday, Aug. 17 by Vice President Steve Janssen.  

In addition to Janssen, Superintendent Scott Doerr, board members Joe Gasparich, Denny Bauman, Carl Ray Fesser, Ben Tarter, and Carl Kettelkamp were all present.  Chad Ruppert attended the meeting remotely.  Also in attendance were Principals Masten, McDowell, and Assistant Principal Reedy, as well as about 40 other interested guests. 

In the opening stages of the meeting, the board heard from several members of the public concerning the mask mandate involved in the “Return to Learn” plan to be voted on later that evening.  

The first speaker, Derek Durbin, gave each board member handouts he had prepared of copies of select Illinois Revised Statutes and codes.  He asked the board members for a show of hands of those favoring masks, but did not appear to get full response to the question.  Durbin then selected sections of his material and read it aloud to the board, questioning the legality of the Governor’s mandate.  Additionally, he read where in his research he found that “the CDC recommends, not requires” masks.  

Next to speak was Michael Schneider.  While he also doubted the effectiveness of masks, his primary point was that a remote option be offered again and parents should be given a choice between masking and a remote learning option.

When Janssen invited other guests to speak, Melody Presnell also chose to address the mask issue.  She voiced concern over the mental health aspect of mask wearing by children and fear that denial of mask breaks had previously been used as a disciplinary action.  Doerr said he was unaware of that happening, but would check into it. Jessica Durbin chose to speak and continued to read from Derek’s material.  She concluded by saying she felt “the Governor does not have the kids’ best interest at heart.”

Lastly, Gayla Brookshire spoke and said that while she did not currently have a student in the district, she was a taxpayer whose taxes helped support the school.  As such, she felt the people should have more say in the decision with regard to local control of their investment.  

Later, Dr. Doerr presented the Return to Learn plan.  He added that the plan process was created advocating for local control at the state level and that he would be attending the ISBE meeting on Aug.18 to further advocate for local control.  Given the current situation, however, the plan now includes mask as required under the executive order (inside only), full-day instruction five days a week, physical distancing of at least three feet when possible, handwashing etiquette, additional cleaning and disinfectants, and contact tracing that changed from last year per Montgomery County Health Department guidelines that only requires quarantine for fully vaccinated.  

Unvaccianted close contacts can participate in the “Test to Stay” program, which allows individuals who have come in close contact to stay in school if we test them on days 1, 3, 5, and 7.  If parents refuse to test, students will be quarantined for 14 days.

Dr. Doerr went on to say, “Although this is not my preference, I, as the superintendent, have to make the recommendation to approve this plan.  As you are aware, I am a big supporter of local control and will fight to maintain that local control.  However, per the advice of legal counsel, we should move forward with the current order.”

Doerr went on to explain that if the board decides to overturn the Governor’s order in any way, especially changing to the mask optional plan, consequences will be handed down from Illinois State Board of Education including the loss of state recognition status and all state and  federal funding (excess of $3 million), loss of tort liability, student liability insurance would not cover any costs associated with illness, and the loss of participating in Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elemetary School Association sports and events.  

Board member Joe Gasparich made a motion to approve the Return to Learn plan as presented and Carl Ray Fesser seconded the motion, which passed 5-2 on a roll call, with Gasparich, Janssen, Ketttelkamp, Bauman and Fesser voting in favor, and Ruppert and Tarter voting against.

In his superintendent’s report to the board, Dr. Doerr reported that the state still owed the district a little over $5,000 for last year, all of which was in driver’s education.  He said that nearly $59,000 for FY21 was paid to the district in July or August.  Doerr said they will see a small increase in their Evidence Based  Funding this year, but that they were also moved to Tier II funding for the year.  He explained this move to Tier II was good because it indicates they are meeting the criteria set by law to educate students and using best practices that are research-based for the district. However, it means less money to the district when new money is appropriated.

Doerr also provided an update on the summer projects, reporting the kitchen remodel was just waiting on the delivery of new equipment to be finished.  He said the majority of it should be here by the end of the month and Sept. 3 has been scheduled as the date to install new equipment arriving after Aug.13.  

He went on to say the North School cameras and intercom system projects were completed, as was the flooring project.  The HVAC duct work and filters were completed and the HVAC controllers were 90 percent done.  Doerr reported the greenhouse was set, but electrical, plumbing, and concrete work will take place in September.

Doerr reported the district had qualified for another maintenance grant this year.  It is a matching $50,000 grant that can be used for building and operations.  He said he would be applying for the grant soon and that it would probably be used to offset the cost to replace rooftop unit two.

Doerr also said he had received a letter from Attorney Trent West indicating that the late Richard Allen Brueckner had passed away and named the Nokomis High School Athletic Department in his will.  Mr. Brueckner left 10 percent of his estate to the athletic department, but that amount is unknown at this point.  Upon settlement of the estate Doerr said he has directed Mr. Reedy to set up a committee to determine how the funds will be used.

Also at the meeting, Dr. Doerr presented the FY22 tentative budget.  He said the budget will sit for 30 days and be presented to the board again in September for final approval.  He summarized that the budget is balanced along all nine funds and includes all grants but two, due to the fact the district has not received notice of those grants from the state yet.

Earlier in the recognition of visitors and guests, the board received the annual ag department report as presented by ag teachers Miss Hartke and Mr. Fesser.  They outlined the educational activities of the vocational ag department for the previous year and thanked the board and the community for their continued strong support of the vocational agriculture department.  Nokomis FFA president Skylar Stewart and vice president Laurel Forrester summarized the activities and accomplishments of the Nokomis FFA chapter for the 2020-2021 school year.

Kettelkamp moved to enter closed session at 8:36 p.m., which was seconded by Fesser and approved by the board.

The board reentered regular session at 9:01 p.m., and Tarter made a motion to accept the resignation of Tamara Howell, effective Aug. 1, 2021.  The motion was seconded by Kettelkamp and passed by the board on a voice vote.

Tarter made a motion to approve the employment of the following for the 2021-2022 school year:  Hannah Atwood, junior high special education aide; Evan Duff, route bus driver; Michelle Hill, high school basketball cheer sponsor; and Tanya Engelman, after school program coordinator.  The motion was seconded by Fesser and passed unanimously on a roll call vote of the members attending.

Gasparich then made a motion to approve the employee bonus package for those employees that worked during the 2020-2021 school year and maintained their employment with Nokomis CUSD #22 for the 2021-2022 school year as presented.  Fesser seconded the motion and it passed unanimously on a roll call vote.

The board adjourned on a motion by Tarter, second by Fesser, and approval with a voice vote.

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