Elizabethtown Area School District

When: Elizabethtown Area school board meeting, May 11, via Zoom.

What happened: The public was asked the question, “What are some of the ‘silver linings’ or positives that have emerged from the pandemic that you would like the Elizabethtown Area School District to carry over into the next school year?” Within four minutes, 49 people had weighed in, and those responses received over 900 ratings by the participants. This rapid, voluminous exchange happened because of a crowd-sourcing platform called ThoughtExchange. The two top-rated answers were a “big thank you” to educators and school staff for helping students succeed and to continue holding school board meetings remotely.

Quotable: Kristen Prevost, one of two representatives from Ontario-based ThoughtExchange, said parents, community members, and faculty and staff can “join constructive conversations on decisions that affect you, your children, your students. The platform allows educational leaders to “hear honest, comprehensive feedback on what’s going well and which issues, be they strategic, operational or cultural, are most important for groups across the district.”

The cost: District spokesman Troy Portser said after the meeting the cost this year for using ThoughtExchange is $8,300.

What’s next: ThoughtExchange will return for the board’s May 25 meeting, and it will be used to gather community input prior to a June forum on the administration’s recommendation to close Mill Road and Rheems elementary schools and consolidate kindergarten through second grades into East High Street and Bainbridge elementary schools.

Other business: During the meeting, Stephanie and Daniel Slade, who have children attending school in the district, asked the board to lift the requirement that students wear masks for the 2021-22 school year as protection from COVID-19. And Stewart Williammee, who has twice before spoken to the board against the use of masks, expressed opposition to masks, likening the requirement to child abuse.

District response: Superintendent Michele Balliet said that because of the district’s reopening plan and mitigation strategies to protect against COVID-19, the district has been able to offer in-person learning since the start of the school year. Balliet said the mask mandate was instituted by the governor, not the school district, but as a public-school entity that receives state funds, the district must abide by state mandates. Balliet strongly recommended continuing with the district’s mitigation strategies until the end of this school year. Board members indicated their agreement.

Budget: The board unanimously approved the display and advertising of a proposed final budget of $68.77 million for 2021-22 school year, which includes a 2.9% increase in property taxes. Board member Menno Riggleman was absent. The final budget vote will take place June 15.

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