DANVILLE — It was a late night for the Danville District 118 school board Wednesday night as it had a record long, almost six-hour meeting for board members, with more than four hours of it open to the public.
The meeting that started at 5:30 p.m. for board members, which immediately starts with a closed session, started at almost 7 p.m. for the public with public comments.
The board heard from several emotional parents who want the school board to make masks optional for students going back in-person for the 2021-2022 school year, leaving the decision for their children up to families, and they don’t want vaccine discrimination among students.
Parent Curtis Lewsader called masks over his children’s noses and mouths “muzzling” and said the school board can be an accessory to child abuse with the mask mandates.
Others talked about the lack of communication from school officials on masks, division among school board members on issues, and one parent asked for students to continue to wear masks to offer some protection to the whole community.
The board also heard from teacher Michelle Collins who’s concerned about the last collective bargaining agreement negotiations and “our union failing us,” and Danville High School Principal Tracy Cherry who said about COVID-19, “we’re going to get through it.”
Cherry too said the school board needs to be united to do what is best for the students.
“We are one,” she said about coming together as a community.
Superintendent Alicia Geddis said the board has not made a new plan yet for this school year regarding masks for in-person learning. Northeast Elementary Magnet School students started this week wearing masks all day, but that could change in peeling back some of the mitigations over time to where students would not have to wear masks while seated.
In other business, new principal assignments are: Stacie Sollars, replacing Jennifer Richardson, who moved, as the new Mark Denman Elementary principal, where she taught for 13 years and was most recently interim principal at Garfield Elementary School; and interim Southwest Elementary School Principal Jonathan Rossi is now principal there.
In other school board action items: First Student was bought by another company, EQT Infrastructure, which will mean no local changes and the school board is continuing its bus contract; and out-of-state field trip requests: Radiant Reds and Redcoats have a March 4, 2022 Lafayette Xtreme Choir Showdown in Lafayette, Ind., and the Band of Vikings and Color Guard have the 2021 Drums Corps International Showcase at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Aug. 13, 2021, and also a Bands of America Grand National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 12, 2021.
The board approved a Return to Learn three-year COVID-19 funding plan that the public can comment on for 30 days. It doesn’t include specific building plans, but general plans relating to health, college and career readiness, equity and other initiatives, still including items such as expanding pre-K, HVAC work and expanding science and food service opportunities.
The board also approved: funding toward the Laura Lee Fellowship House summer program; a new district vehicle for homeless student support; AVID tutor, school psychologist and speech and language pathologist pay increases; and seeking bids for food science renovations at DHS and also HVAC at North Ridge, South View and Mark Denman schools.
The board voted down, by a 4-3 vote, a request by board members Darlene Halloran, Lon Henderson and Bill Dobbles to have Northeast Elementary Magnet School remain the magnet school and have it removed from further consideration as a preschool site.
“This is very premature,” said board member Johnnie Carey.
She said with some schools overpopulated and others underutilized, the district needs to look at redistricting students.
“We want to focus on one building,” she said of some school board members. “Why can’t we look at the total?”
Halloran too said Northeast hasn’t had any changes to it since adding sixth grade and more students.
The two other action items requested by Halloran, Henderson and Dobbles were removed from the agenda – to solicit bids for Northeast improvements and amending certified staff salary compensation package.
Halloran also said if board members are divided on issues, they remain respectful of each other.
The board next meets on Aug. 11.