COVID-19 has been a challenging time for both students and adults. The way learning models are chosen and the impact of distance learning on student mental health were two topics the Nevis School Board discussed at the Dec. 21 meeting.

Decision making questioned

School board member Justin Isaacson asked why the school board isn’t making decisions about the various learning models being used.

“I think we need to take those powers back,” he said. “A lot of my constituents are displeased at the way it has been going. As elected officials, we should be the ones making the calls. With all of the things we have done to make the building safe and shown that the coronavirus is not spreading in the building, I would have made a different decision.”

Superintendent Gregg Parks said there were not enough staff available to continue in-person learning at the time the decision was made to go to distance learning with grades 3-12 after Thanksgiving because of the impact of COVID-19.

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Board chair Andy Lindow clarified that the school board passed a motion to give the COVID Management Team (CMT) the authority to make these decisions.

Board member Larry Smith said a lot of thought goes into each CMT decision.

“We consider every aspect of it,” he said. “There are multiple viewpoints. The people on that team have their hands on what’s going on. They are the ones we trust to make those recommendations. The experts keep telling us that even though the numbers are going down, this situation is not over yet. There is a light at the end of the trouble but there’s still trouble ahead.

“Will the board trust us to make these decisions? The board still has the ultimate authority. Are you going to trust Mr. Parks, who has been a very good leader in this and that group, to do what is best for students?”

Mental health resources

The toll COVID-19 is having on mental health was also discussed. Isaacson expressed concern for students who are under a lot of stress this year, with distance learning and how that it is affecting their mental health and the mental health of their parents.

“Just because we don’t have any suicides yet doesn't mean these kids aren’t suffering or becoming helpless,” he said.“When you’re depressed, you’re not going to go seek help. You’re in a hole in your home, overcome with all kinds of feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. It’s overwhelming for them. We need to get back in the building. They’ve lost hope, they’ve lost interest. Star athletes and star students are becoming complacent.”

Lindow said the school has resources set up to help.

Parks said they are trying to do as much as they can to maintain connections with students, including a mentoring program where staff reach out to students on a regular basis.

Any parent who has concerns about how their child is coping should contact the school for assistance. “We can help. We have resources,” Parks said.

He said all district staff have had training in identifying the onset of mental illness and will be attending training on suicide prevention in January.

“We are getting more students into the building,” he said. “Students have written to thank me for this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. When kids write and say they want to come back to school, that’s a very powerful thing. It says a lot about the bonds we’ve created here.”

Smith said that depression in the United States is three times higher now than it was before COVID.

“It’s not just students, it’s everyone,” he said. “Think of business owners that have lost everything, the unemployed. There are a lot of people out there who are hurting.”

Levy certification

The board certified the payable 2021 property tax levy of $1,165,515, a 3.2 percent increase from the 2020 levy of $1,129,713.

Parks said, since property values in the district also increased, most residents should end up paying about the same this year as they did last year.

Parks explained that over 80 percent of the district’s funding comes from the state, and salaries, wages and benefits account for over 80 percent of the budget. These levy dollars will provide funding for the 2021 school year.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved the World’s Best Workforce report. Nevis met its goal of having 100 percent of enrolled four-year olds meeting the standards for Kindergarten readiness. The district had a 97.3 percent graduation and is working toward the goal of 100 percent readiness.

  • Heard the faculty mentoring program is helping provide support and a sense of connection for students.

  • Accepted Sarah Gwiazdon’s resignation from the secretary position.

  • Thanked NW Links for a $2,687 donation for COVID expenses.

  • Approved hiring Sue Bloomquist as an educational assistant.

The next board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25 in the school media center and on Zoom.