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KIELER, Wis.–The Southwestern School Board met at Jamestown Town Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 11 to discuss the district’s plans for limiting the number of attendees at upcoming sporting events.
“Administrators, athletic directors and principals have all been meeting and talking about what to do with winter sports,” said Superintendent John Costello. “They are all over the board.”
Athletic director Tom Koeller talked about the state of fan attendance at other Southwest Wisconsin Athletic League (SWAL) schools.
“About a week ago, it was split between schools saying no fans, only home fans or four tickets per players,” said Koeller. “This week, every day it has slipped further away from this with more saying no fans. Mineral Point, which has the largest gym, has said no fans. At this point, my best guess is half are saying home fans only at best.”
Koeller said SWAL athletic directors have passed the decision on to superintendents in hopes of making a consensus decision for the conference in regard to fan attendance.
“I personally don’t have a recommendation,” said Koeller. “I have a fear that if we are all over the place, how are we going to manage it?”
Koeller detailed scenarios that school districts used in the fall about controlling players and assigning tickets to individuals. Koeller’s concern was the number of events in the winter and whose role it would be to make sure the proper name is assigned to each player.
Koeller said Costello brought up the idea of laminated tickets.
“That also leaves out our non-conference games,” said Koeller.
Koeller said there are 24 games for both boys and girls basketball that are scheduled this year.
Board president Jodi Fritz said she would be in favor of limiting it to just home fans if the district were to allow any fans.
“I do know that at least two schools told me last week when we are leaning towards home only that they wouldn’t allow our fans into their gyms,” said Koeller. “Which is fair, they said that with as much respect as possible.”
“That is absolutely realistic,” said Fritz.
Costello asked if the board had considered not allowing fans until Jan. 1.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Fritz.
“I am not recommending it,” said Costello. “I just wanted to bring it up as a topic of discussion. Our number one goal is to get as many games played as possible for these kids. If we allow families to come in and sit and possibly get exposed and then it will trickle down to our athletes and then they would be quarantined and the season would be shut down for two or three weeks.”
Board member Jackie Birkett said her question was about ticket management. She brought up the idea of a number of families sitting together and who would regulate mask wearing and social distancing.
“It is something that we would absolutely have to enforce,” said Koeller.
“You have to pick your priorities,” said Birkett. “If the kids want to play basketball, that is the first priority and go down from that. I wasn’t thinking I would be in favor of no fans, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea to have that until the first of the year and after the holidays.”
Board member Storey Dreessens asked how many games would be held after the new year.
Dreessens said she would agree with the board’s decision on no fans, even though it is a difficult vote to cast as it would mean she would not be able to watch her children compete during this time.
Koeller said half of the games will still need to be played after Jan. 1. The board also asked about the impact the decision would have on gymnastics.
Costello said they would have to follow Southwestern’s decision as they are the host school for the team.
The board voted in favor of not allowing fans indefinitely and will review the decision at the December board meeting. Also, by saying indefinitely the board could review as soon as possible and change course if they feel that it is no longer necessary and to allow fans at the games once again.
Addressing shutdown concerns
Costello addressed the board about what point the district would shut down with the rising number of cases of COVID.
“We were hybrid before and we talked extensively as an administrative team that we want to try to keep our kids in session as long as we possibly can,” said Costello.
Costello said the elementary school has done a terrific job and has been in school for 11 weeks.
“Hopefully we can continue with that,” said Costello.
Costello also addressed questions about returning from Thanksgiving and whether or not the school should shut down.
“I think keeping the kids in school, we know what they are doing,” said Costello. “If they are not, they are off with their friends in another house and not necessarily quarantining. That is where we are at as administrators.”
Costello said a couple school districts have discussed shutting down after Thanksgiving but that it is a guessing game on COVID infections and the impact the holidays will have.
“It is easier for our staff to have more kids in-person, but it is also difficult for those teaching virtually,” said Costello.
Birkett asked about whether or not the board will need to convene to make a decision on closing school.
Costello said he and the administrative team will make the decision on whether or not it is safer at a certain point for students to learn virtually.
“If we need to have a special board meeting, we can certainly do that,” said Costello.
Costello said a shutdown will likely be caused due to staffing concerns.
“From time to time we are close to that,” said Costello.
Costello thanked the staff for work on covering classes and being willing to give up prep to help out.
Costello also addressed the concern he has for working families and the impact virtual learning could have on them.
“I also look at the impact it would have on our families that are now back to work and their kids would have to go to daycare,” said Costello. “They would be losing out on that instruction.”
Fritz also addressed the fact that there are still gatherings taking place such as birthdays and confirmation and those are being handled correctly and that if there wasn’t school then kids would be around each other in other locations.
“It is nice to be proactive and have a plan,” said elementary school principal Angela Barth. “In reality, you have to be prepared all of the time to be ready to go virtual.”