COVID concerns lead to additional coaches for wrestlers


LUSK – In a decision that was, literally, applauded by members of the public present, the Niobrara School District Board approved the hiring of not one, but two assistant coaches for the wrestling program. 

The board voted by roll call vote in a 5-4 decision on a motion made by Loren Heth. Stepping outside of the specific recommendation from Athletic Director Ryan Nelson and Superintendent George Mirich that Andrew Wasserburger be hired as the assistant coach, Heth moved to approve the hiring of both Wasserburger and John Thayer. In a statement of clarification to the rest of the board, Heth stated that it is the responsibility of the board to take actions that are in consideration of what is best for the students and the district while conducting the business of the board even if it falls outside of the recommendation of the superintendent. The motion was passed following a failed motion to go into executive session. Part of the reasoning behind hiring two assistant coaches and not only one is because of the recent illnesses of one coach leaving the program with one coach. 

Rachel Manning and Nathan Fish both spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting in favor of hiring of John Thayer as the assistant coach. They urged the board to consider him as a viable option and also asked that Superintendent Mirich make the recommendation to the board that Thayer be hired.

The school board held their regular meeting in the high school auditorium to allow for social distancing given the recent increase in cases of COVID-19 in Niobrara County. This increase has affected the school district with a confirmed case in a student, one confirmed in a staff member and one confirmed in coach that is not a staff member.

Mirich and Kaspers both stated in their administrative reports this confirmation of COVID positive cases within the district has resulted in a significant amount of time being spent working with public health, staff and responding to parental concerns.

Kaspers said that Lusks Elementary and Middle School is working to figure out ways to ensure families with children in quarantine have access to instructional and learning information without switching to an online environment. Additionally, there are several families that are not feeling safe at this time and have chosen to withdraw their students. 

As a reminder, Wednesday’s veteran appreciation activities include gift baskets that have been assembled by students and will be delivered by the Senior Center or picked up from outside tables by veterans.

Mirich also reported the majority of his time the last week has been spent focusing on COVID response. This included meeting with older students to remind them of the necessity of following mask, distancing and hand hygiene restrictions. He stated that the contact tracing has been completed and it does lead the district to the question, “Are we doing enough?” They have met with health officer Dr. Joleen Falkenburg and she has approved their process and they are on target and do not have any further quarantines at this time. The district is following the state issued recommendation that if both parties were wearing masks no quarantine is necessary unless there is a positive test result.

Lusk is hosting middle school wrestling this weekend and it has been recommended that only two tickets per wrestler are allowed for the event. Larger schools around the state have already been following this practice.

Acting high school principal and special education director Robyn Heth reported that Mason Wells was recognized for the sportsmanship award at the October 17 game. SPED also has an assessment report due next week.

Dr. Joe Heywood from WYVA turned the floor over to Principal Caroline Hickerson and educator Janae Miller. Hickerson and Miller provided the board with information on the Career Technical Education and Destinations Career Academy programs that WYVA has been working on. The DCA program focuses on an academic pathway that culminates in industry ready certifications to allow students to move directly into a vocation after graduation should they choose. Additionally, the concurrent enrollment options to high school students means that students could have their first year of college completed upon high school graduation. Heywood commended Hickerson, Miller and administrator Lisa Williams on all of the great work they are doing on behalf of WYVA students.

The consent agenda was approved as were three policies which passed first and second reading.

Under old business, the concerns of the district regarding recalibration were reviewed by Mirich. At this time, the state is telling districts to consider a 16% cut in budget and Niobrara can’t do a 3% cut without programs suffering. He doesn’t know how the state can expect even 10%. Bricks and mortar are only 1/3 of the enrollment and WYVA is 2/3 so WYVA would need to absorb 2/3 of the cuts as well. Mirich also stated that nothing will really be known until towards the end of January.

The board requested that Mirich give all the new board members the information previously distributed on board member rolls, responsibilities, ethics and goals so they would have time to review the information prior to the reorganization meeting in December.

At this time new board member Jeremy Nelson was also sworn in.

Discussion regarding the use of the buildings by the public was held and it will be an action item at the next regularly scheduled board meeting. Meeting then adjourned.

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