Precautionary measures for summer programs – including temperature checks and parents not being allowed to escort their kids inside buildings – became the center of contentious debate at last week’s board of education meeting, leading to disagreement among board members on where to draw the line when it comes to Covid-19 countermeasures in Derby schools.
The extra precautions ultimately passed, with each receiving a 5-2 vote, but not until after lengthy discussion of each. When it was all said and done, the board meeting, which included other discussion and action items, was nearly four hours long.
The recommended precautions for the summer programs, including summer latchkey, Primetime, and more, were presented by Superintendent Heather Bohaty as a package vote, but Board President Justin Kippenberger – the first board member to raise concerns about the extra precautions and the most vocal critic – motioned to have each program discussed and voted on individually.
Two elements of the recommendations led to the lengthy disagreement: temperature checks for children before being allowed in buildings, and parents being required to drop kids off curbside instead of escorting their children inside. One restriction, a 10-person limit per room, was a requirement, not a recommendation.
After Bohaty presented the plan, the board’s vice president, Andy Watkins, and Kippenberger questioned whether the Kansas Health Department said all those restrictions were mandatory or recommended.
Dr. Andy Koenigs, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the temperature checks and not having parents come in buildings are recommendations from the state.
Kippenberger said he understands why the schools would want to follow these recommendations now, but wondered why the precautions will still be necessary when the summer programs begin in June, considering a number of Derby businesses – such as the Derby Rec Center and Rock River Rapids water park – are reopening around that time.
“If I can take my kid into a water park but can’t walk them into their class at latchkey … it just seems strange to me,” Kippenberger said. “Why do we feel we need to be more restrictive than all these other places?”
“At what point do we let the kids get back to some point of normalcy?”
Superintendent Bohaty responded by saying the district is trying to strike a balance. She said the district and health department want parents returning to work to feel their kids are as safe as possible, and that the plan can be flexible and ease up as time goes on.
“You say ‘why,’ and the ‘why’ is that there are some latchkey programs that aren’t even taking the risk to open up,” Bohaty said. “We’re saying with your approval, we would do this for families, but we’re trying to [make] families feel comfortable. We will keep in constant contact with the health department. If we get to a point where we can lighten up, that may be something we’ll modify.”
Kippenberger responded by saying the district should follow the state’s reopening phases, “with the caveat of if the state directs a change, then we adjust for it.”
“That’s where I’m at,” Kippenbeger said. “Why are we planning for it to change when we don’t know if it’s going to change?”
At that point, board member Pam Doyle jumped into the discussion. She said the Derby Rec Center and water park are not essential businesses, and that latchkey is an essential service.
“My perspective is, I would appreciate the caution if I were taking my child [to latchkey],” Doyle said.
Then board member Tina Prunier joined in, saying the temperature checks aren’t a concern for her, but wondered how drop-offs have worked in the past.
“Have we had lots of parents bringing kids into buildings?” Prunier asked.
Bohaty responded by saying yes, parents are usually required to come inside the building when dropping a child off for latchkey.
“So for many families, this will be a convenience,” Bohaty said.
Shortly after this, board member Matthew Joyce had some thoughts: “I got the impression – if I’m putting words in your mouth tell me – if we don’t follow temp taking and PPE, we may not have staff to work latchkey at [the 120 child limit], and we may not have some parents who would want to participate?”
Bohaty said that’s the district’s current understanding.
“That’s a small price to pay,” Joyce said. “If we start off a little more stringent, we can always back off.”
Then board member Mark Tillison jumped in, agreeing that it’s a small sacrifice to make for kids’ and families’ safety.
“I would argue for taking temperatures any time of the year with kids at school,” Tillison said. “It’s kind of a smart thing to do. I don’t worry about taking temperatures, other than it’s a little bit crazy when it starts in the morning, and you have to consider some privacy when things happen.”
By this point, it seemed like the majority of the board was in favor of the recommended precautions, but Kippenberger continued to argue against the precautions.
“In Sedgwick County we’ve had no increase to mortality,” Kippenberger said. “It’s definitely a serious thing, but at what cost do we continue? I don’t want to have my 5-year-old and 3-year-old having to get out there and get their temperature checked every morning – unless something changes with the state.”
Kippenberger said he disagrees with Joyce’s notion that it would be easy to relax the restrictions later on.
Around that point, Doyle said that the decision on these extra precautions should come down to “the people who are working with those kids.”
“I don’t feel that’s our purpose as a board,” Doyle said.
Kippenberger then asked the board to vote on each item – latchkey, the Primetime program, Jumpstart, facility use, sports, and conferences – in the package separately. First up was latchkey, which board member Matt Hoag motioned to adopt as recommended.
“I’m trying to read the room here,” Hoag said. “We’re all in favor of opening latchkey. To move this forward with where we are with our recommendations is perfectly fine for right now. [But] I think as things change we have to be very flexible.”
The vote was 5-2, with Kippenberger and Andy Watkins voting no.
Watkins explained why he voted no by saying there wasn’t enough information in the board’s information packet to make a thoughtful decision.
“I’m really confused based on this discussion and not having a lot of detail,” Watkins said.
The board then voted on the Primetime recommendations, which passed 5-2.
The last items in the package – which did not include the recommended restrictions of the previous items – were the rental of school buildings and sports facilities and the disapproval of out-of-state conferences for staff. All three passed 7-0 by the board.