LUSK – The Niobrara County School District Board of Education approved the Smart Start Variance at their March 22 regular board meeting. The variance removes the mask mandate within Niobrara County Schools. Beginning March 23, the Niobrara County School District will no longer require their students to wear masks.
The Smart Start Variance comes after Dr. Joleen Falkenburg, the Niobrara County Health Officer, and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the Wyoming state Health Officer, both signed a variance for Niobrara County allowing the county to be exempt from the state’s enacted health orders.
Superintendent George Mirich told the board they were not the first to have received and approved a variance for their school district as Weston County’s School District No. 1 and No. 7 had both already approved variances for their school districts.
“The state is already working on this in other areas,” Mirich said. “We are just going to be a part of it.”
Mirich said there were several other school districts throughout the state who were also applying for variances to statewide health orders.
Trustee Cheryl Lund asked if this Smart Start Variance would allow students to take off their masks.
“There is no mask requirement in our schools, if you approve this,” Mirich said.
The board voted in favor of accepting the variance, removing the masking requirement for students.
Also discussed at the meeting was a field trip taken by several members of the school district. Trustee Jeremy Nelson, Lusk Elementary and Middle School Principal Lucinda Kasper, Lusk Elementary and Middle School English Teacher Lori Lyons and Niobrara County Middle School and High School Math Teacher Toni Gaukel reported on their visit to Southeast High School in Goshen County.
All the attendants of the field trip were pleased with what they saw and were very appreciative of Southeast Schools for their willingness to allow them in and show them around.
Lyons said she was impressed with Southeast’s ability to ensure students who need intervention are getting the additional instruction they need to learn the required material. Lyons also pointed out the school had been applying doubled-up classes, or classes of up to two periods combined, to ensure their students had adequate time to learn the required tasks and subject matter areas.
Ashurst asked the group to give her the “good, bad and ugly” of the trip to Southeast.
The group concurred there was no ugly. The only bad part was scheduling. They explained how scheduling was a difficult task, regardless, but would be no more challenging than what it already was.
Nelson said the biggest concern from citizens was the impact of interactions between younger and older kids. He said there was no interaction between the younger kids and older kids at the school. Even as they observed from the hallways, they didn’t witness any interactions between the different kids in the school.
The group was informed by representatives of Southeast Schools that any issues between students were always between students of the same age, and not between different age groups or maturity levels.
The discussion also brought up other areas of concern.
Trustee Loren Heth said he was informed many students’ primary concern was the offering of classes, or lack thereof. Heth hoped to be able to offer students more concurrent or dual enrollment courses.
Mirich explained how this was a multifaceted issue as teachers are required to have specific credentialing to teach college-level courses. In addition, certifying the teachers is a costly expenditure for the school district.
A student present at the meeting said she was in favor of WYVA classes, but not dual enrollment with Eastern Wyoming College. The student said she had numerous issues with EWC staff not being involved with the students. The student said some of the professors don’t teach the classes, they simply post assignments and leave learning the topic up to the students.
One staff member added to the student’s testimony, saying they had also tried addressing issues with EWC professors on multiple occasions, but the issues remain.
Another issue discussed was the fact that several teachers had classes in both the middle and high schools and were required to travel between the schools with only a few minutes of time for transport.
The teachers concurred the running back and forth between schools is not conducive to creating and building positive relationships with the students. They noted a breakdown in communication with the students that was detrimental to building personal relationships with the students, allowing for a better learning environment.
During the meeting, Corben Pontarolo and Zalee Wurdeman of Lusk Elementary School, Rylieann Adams of Lance Creek Schools, Charlie Gaukel and Royal Kremers of Lusk Middle School and Bryn Bruch of Lusk High School were recognized for their achievements as students of the month.
Each student was called to the front of the room and their nomination letters were read to the crowd, detailing their achievements and leadership qualities.
Several fifth graders present projects to the council about Native American dwelling models they had made in class. The students each explained the different aspects of their structures and a brief history of the tribes who used the structures.
Faith Honey Anderson, a Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) student, told the board she had been awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for 2021. She explained how she had done senior citizen high-technology events to bring together senior citizens and younger adults and children. Anderson said she hoped to “bridge the gap” between the generations and bring them together.
Anderson detailed how she had worked closely with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to accomplish the task. She also detailed how COVID-19 had presented a large obstacle for her to overcome, but she overcame the obstacles and had a successful event.
Anderson will be graduating from WYVA a year early and looks forward to moving to Florida, temporarily, to go to college at Southeastern University, a private Christian university in Lakeland, Fla. Anderson said the school aligned with her morals and ethics and will allow her to be close to her recently married sister.
Some of the board members asked Anderson about her experience with WYVA. Anderson said she had been an online public school student throughout her entire student career. She explained how she is a very independent person and was able to learn in a way which benefitted her and her career goals.
“I would not have been able to complete 400 hours of community service at brick-and-mortar schools,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she originally chose WYVA after surveying several other options. She explained how WYVA aligned with her goals and she felt supported throughout the educational venture.
The meeting was concluded after the board adjourned the meeting into executive session to discuss personnel matters.