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TPS rejects mask mandate for students

By
JACKIE KOCH

Concern about rising COVID-19 cases prompted a discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Tecumseh Public Schools (TPS) board of education, but no changes were made in the current mask-optional stance for the start of the school year. Trustee Greg Lewis brought up the subject during the end-of-meeting board comments, stating that board members have received emails from parents regarding the issue.

Lewis said that when parents were polled in May there were only 212 cases of COVID-19 in the state per week and that number was declining, but now cases are back to quadruple digits. He cited hospitalizations and how the virus is infecting school-age children, stating federal statistics. “The group that’s the biggest increase now is the kids that are under twelve years old,” he said. “The reason is because it’s the last group of people that has not received vaccinations. The Delta variant has kind of changed the game.”

While he didn’t suggest a mask mandate, he did raise an idea to cut down on transmission of the virus. “We’re here to educate kids and keep them safe, and there’s clearly no one direction here on what safety is on this virus,” he said. “I’m asking that we look into the possibility of having classrooms where kids are masked and where kids are not masking depending on what the parents’ wishes are. I think it serves all the parents as best we can in the community, and the students.”

“It doesn’t really matter how many cases you have, it matters the amount of people that die from it. In reality kids zero to nineteen are more likely to get struck from lightning and die. They are more likely to die from the actual flu,” Trustee Suzanne Moore said. “I think people want a choice to kind of go back to normal. The closer we can get to normal, the better off our kids will be.”

Trustee Mary Tommelein said exploring the idea would be respectful to parents who might feel differently than they did in May when cases were lower, and Vice President Lynne Davis said it would be a good idea to study as long as staff and parents had a voice in the decision. “We strongly encourage parents to have their children masked when they come to school,” she said.

Supt. Rick Hilderley said there wasn’t time to change direction before the start of the school year, but that Tecumseh Virtual Academy is available to avoid being in a classroom with others who are unmasked.

During the good news portion of the meeting several donations to the district were announced, including a surprise $30,000 anonymous donation for the high school sculpture garden to finish the tiers and level the ground to nearly complete several years of work.

“This was a total shock,” said high school art teacher Jackie Whiteley. “We don’t know who donated it but we are overwhelmed with the generosity, and so very grateful.”

“Whoever it is, thank you so much,” said high school art teacher Christine Obeid. “This will enable us to complete phase three of the sculpture garden, and then we can keep moving forward with our plans for this great art space.” Retired art teacher Ron Frenzen also expressed his appreciation. “It’s overwhelming,” he said. “To consider $30,000 is amazing. I’d like to thank Rick for his leadership and the support from the board for the arts.”

Additional donations included $100 from Barbara Vallieu in honor of Roger Hart for the athletic department; $100 from MEA Financial Services (Bob Arnold) for professional development; $250 from Tecumseh Arrows Baseball for the middle school strength and conditioning room; $500 from Howard Hanna Realtors for the Positivity Campaign; and a $1,125.75 donation to the boys soccer program from the City of Tecumseh.

In other news the Tecumseh Education Association (TEA) overwhelmingly ratified their 2021/22 contract which includes a three-year deal with a new pay schedule that switches from a wage-based schedule. In year one, teachers will receive a 2% stipend as part of the federal COVID relief hazard pay and will receive a 1% salary increase in years two and three.

Technology Director Deven Knight reported that the technology department has been short-staffed while preparing for the new school year. “The Chromebook situation isn’t great, but I think we have enough to start the school year,” said Knight. “There’s going to be some that just are never turned in.” He said there are around 800 additional Chromebooks in need of repair or are unrepairable.

Hilderley said that in the technology policy, parents are required to pay a $30 insurance fee, and if a device is damaged the student will not be issued a new device to take home until a new insurance fee is paid for the replacement Chromebook. Each new device assigned to a student requires its own insurance fee.

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