Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
Masks won’t be required for the upcoming school year; social distancing will remain.
Pam Stranathan, superintendent, announced at the June USD 231 board of education meeting that there will not be a mask requirement for the 2021-22 school year.
“Masks are not mandated but encouraged and optional,” she said. Stranathan said they will still keep social distancing and follow recommendations from the county. “We will still keep social distancing if we aren’t masking,” she said.
Stranathan said they don’t have the final guidelines on quarantining, and they will come out in late June or early July. She said they will readdress the issue at the July 26  meeting and masks are no longer required at board of education meetings.
A presentation was given on the new procedures for the district’s Special Educational Program.
Linda Miesner, special education interim director, said they had hired Jason Radel as the new special education teacher.
Carol Prothe, parent, said during public comments that she had been disappointed with the district’s program for her son.
“There was no trying to work out or compromise,” she said. “I am a voice representing others in the district as our story is the same others have experienced.”
Prothe said they moved to the district because they heard good things about the special education program, but now the perception was it wasn’t valued as part of USD 231.
“There is the perception that the kids deserve nothing more than glorified daycare,” she said. “I witnessed it myself when my kid was at the high school.”
Prothe said the toxic mentality trickles down and effects everyone.
“There is a perception they are not valued or contribute to the community,” she said.
Miesner said they had been looking at the program’s last few years and students and staff performance.
“We learned adjustments we would like to make to enhance the program,” she said.
Miesner said they had looked at what staff and students will need for the next school year and they need to go back to having a director overseeing everything.
Miesner said the district is currently seeking to hire someone for the director position.
She said the district had hired new coordinators for each level: Special Education Elementary Coordinator Olivia Riscovallez, Special Education Middle School Elementary Coordinator Kelly Edwards and Special Education High School Coordinator Lauren Averill.
“The three combined are a pretty amazing team,” she said. “They are super high quality and bring a lot of great experience and will provide a lot of service for students and support staff.”
Miesner said for each level the parent will go to the case manager then the principal then to the coordinator then to each level director then to the overall director.
Christi Whitier is currently the elementary and early childhood director, and Heather Peeke the high school and assessments director.
Miesner said they meet every Monday at the district level, and the buildings meet monthly.“We wanted increased communication,” she said.
Miesner said they will be hiring a new math intervention teacher at the elementary and middle school levels.
She said there will be a meet and greet with the board and parents on July 14.
Miesner said they were very excited for the increased communication and professional development.
Stranahan said Radell’s position was in response to feedback from staff at the high school.
“It’s not a new position, but it’s split,” she said. “He’s still a teacher, and we are not creating a new position.”
Stranathan said she was happy they were bringing back the head director role, and they were late in the year for the job posting and search.
Brandon Parks, board member, said he wanted to know if they were looking into similar roles to Radell’s for the elementary and middle school levels.
Miesner said they didn’t think at this point there was a need.
“If we see a need we could consider,” she said.
Stranathan said she wanted to know if they were looking at a mentoring program.
Miesner said they didn’t have a special ed focused for program.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” she said. “We are making sure we get high level support.”
Stranathan said they hoped with Radell’s role and the new model they could help alleviate the case load from teachers.
Parks said he wanted to know if the meetings between levels were all together or just on a level basis.
Miesner said everyone would meet together similar to vertical team meetings.
Kristen Schultz, board member, said they had reorganized the special ed program two years ago, and it hadn’t worked out well.
“The feedback we had gotten was there was a lack of leadership,” she said. “How is the new plan different than before.”
Miesner said they would be floating between buildings, and there hadn’t been much special ed support before.
“Having someone at each level is important,” she said. “So happy to have someone there hands on when we didn’t have level support before.”
Miesner said they found they needed a lead person for overarching compliance logistics.
Parks said it sounded like there was now a greater focus of structure in special ed and between the general education program.
Miesner said they still need a person accountable for the overall pieces. “This provides more structure, communication and transparency,” she said.
Robin Strentz, board member, said she hoped the new plan worked.
“I know the last four to five years there have whisperings about SPED,” she said. “It’s serious, and I appreciate everyone addressing it because we want to make sure it works.”
Strents said she didn’t want to be there next year or two years from now with the same problems.
“It sounds like they want to do it now is the same as before,” she said.
Miesner said it was similar but has a whole new layer.
Strentz said she appreciated it and liked it.
“I hope everyone in the community knows we care about the SPED, and I hope this helps and strengthens the bond,” she said.
Lana Sutton, board member, said she wanted to know if the program directors would be reporting to them, so they would know the status of the program.
Rob Shippy, board member, said how detailed did they want to know.
“It would be beneficial to have updates,”she said.
Schultz said it would be beneficial to have different perspectives from the advisory committee and not have the same people. “I still don’t understand the process from the classroom perspective,” she said. “Hopefully we won’t be back where we are.”