Students Petition Against Plexiglass Dividers at Board Meeting

On Nov. 9, the Lincoln County School District #1 Board of Trustees met for their monthly meeting. Items on the agenda included familiar updates and approving bill payments and the like. In addition to this, the petition to amend the dress code was read for a second time, and featured minor updates and changes. There was also an executive session regarding a personnel matter and an audit presentation led by Louis Brandley.

The meeting also featured an unexpected pair of guests: Camden Killian and Janelle Sawaya. These two tenth graders who spoke at length about the student body’s grievances with plexiglass barriers. They were not alone, as they had several students in attendance that were there in solidarity.

Their goal? To petition the board to remove the plexiglass dividers that the district had installed as a measure against COVID-19. They had accrued 122 signatures as of the meeting, but noted that they lacked easy access to the seventh and eighth graders. Should every signature belong to a student from ninth through twelfth grade, this figure would represent approximately two-thirds of the current student body.

As they presented their case, it was obvious that they had prepared extensively for this, as there were plenty of high-quality photographs of the plexiglass dividers passed out to board members.

He also noted several salient points about the inconsistent application of the dividers in the high school, remarking that there are no dividers in the places that students congregate in the most— the lunch and band rooms or auditorium being the chief examples. He also noted that the dividers were evidently not cleaned daily and are a burden on the janitorial staff. Notably, it was said that that teachers are required clean them between classes. As before, Killian paused as photos of dirty plexiglass dividers were passed to board members.

However, Killian then brought up the fact that he reached out to the Wyoming Department of Health, who informed him that Wyoming does not have any COVID-19 restrictions in place for schools.

He also cited more practical issues, such as students not being able to hear or see the board clearly through the dividers, as well as headaches and a greatly reduced amount of real estate available for student desks. In addition, he mentioned the fragile nature of the dividers, some of which already have cracks or are broken in many places, claiming that it creates a “continuous strain on the maintenance workers at our school.”

Not one to be satisfied with the amount of evidence presented thus far, Killian then mentioned that surrounding school districts do not have any COVID-19 precautions in place, suggesting that the district stood alone in this regard.

He then cited the growing consensus that plexiglass dividers do not actually do much to slow the spread of COVID-19, and paused as Sawaya handed out a paper she had written about the matter for board members to read later. As he concluded his speech, he also mentioned that many students would be more than willing to aid the school in the removal of the plexiglass dividers, depending on the timing.

Despite the impressively thorough nature of the arguments that Killian brought forth for the petition, school officials said that they would have to look into the matter as to the veracity of some of the petition’s claims. A board member inquired if there was any statistical differences between districts that have been using the dividers versus those that have not, but Superintendent Teresa Chaulk was unsure, saying that she’d have to look into it.

Chaulk then referenced the fact that the district’s original plan had actually been to do nothing for the school year, “but we got lit up like a firecracker by the Wyoming Department of Health for not doing anything, and [they] wanted us to mandate masks,” she added.

Chaulk then shed light on the origins of the plexiglass dividers, citing a recommendation from Dr. Krell, the county health officer.

“Last year, Dr. Krell, our county official, authorized the plexiglass…Dr. Krell did that so that we didn’t have to wear masks all day long every day,” she explained.

And despite the possibility of the plexiglass barriers not being effective, Chaulk also noted that their numbers for this school year have been a lot better— from 7% last year to 2%.

“Can I say it’s because of the [dividers]? I can’t, but I can’t say that it’s not because of that either,” she said.

Killian then cited his recent experience at Lyman, saying they had no dividers or hallway masking requirements.

“Nope, you’re right. There [are] other districts doing absolutely nothing, and do I think that’s safe? I think it’s about being able to mitigate it as best you can without disrupting the environment, if possible,” Chaulk said.

After the discussion had drawn to a close, Chaulk stated that she had made a recommendation to the board to leave the dividers up through the end of the holiday season, a period of time that will likely see elevated transmission levels. After the holidays, the board would then revisit the decision to take down the dividers. Killian agreed with Chaulk’s proposed timetable, and the matter drew to a close.

After the period of public input ended, the meeting then moved on to some of the dress code revisions, which cleaned up some of the wording to make things clearer. Event-specific attire was also outlined for both men and women for each of the school year’s events, such as prom and homecoming. The proposed revisions to the dress code will be read for a third time at next month’s board meeting, where the board will then take a vote on the matter.

Another matter that was not on the agenda also involved student Lilah Maxwell’s request to ski for Pinedale.

“Skiing is truly my passion, I love to get out on the slopes with my family or some friends…just being outside in the winter. I started out on skis when I was 18 months, and ever since then, I’ve just loved it,” Maxwell said.

After answering some questions from Chaulk and the board, the board approved Maxwell’s request to allow her to ski for Pinedale.

Lastly, Chaulk then briefed the board about the upcoming Wyoming School Board Association meeting and the proposed resolutions that their representative, Brad Grandy, would have to vote on this week. Notably, it was also revealed that chairman Don Lamborn and Bob Hunter would not be going.

The first resolution involved reasserting a commitment to teaching reading, writing and mathematics for K-3 students in an effort to help students with dyslexia. The board opined that this was something the legislature should be passing, not the WSBA, and Grandy affirmed that he was planning to vote against the resolution.

The next resolution was about health standards and suicide prevention training. During the discussion, Chaulk noted that they were still working on bringing their staff up to speed, but also that they have yet to accept a local partnership request to train their students until the aforementioned staff is trained. Grandy stated that he was planning to vote in support of the legislation.

The third resolution involved the matter of recruiting and retaining coaches and athletic support staff. Specifically, the resolution seeks to require that school districts hire only within the district, pass background checks, and are trained in CPR, injury care and prevention, concussion training, training for recognizing signs of sexual abuse and suicide prevention. After a brief discussion about how the requirements are more stringent and Chaulk professing her cynicism about how strict school districts would be in enforcing the proposal, Grandy affirmed that he would vote against the measure.

The fourth and fifth resolutions involved Critical Race Theory, with one being a somewhat redundant recommitment to existing constitutional values and the other being a more targeted ban against the teaching of CRT and the 1619 Project. Chaulk noted that despite her personal beliefs in the latter resolution, she felt this was another matter for the state to be dealing with, instead of “trying to get us to support something that they should be doing without us telling [the state] to.” Grandy affirmed that he would vote against both resolutions, noting that both were redundant based on existing district policy.

Despite Grandy’s tentative votes on each resolution, each resolution will be presented to all voting representatives at the WSBA conference on Nov. 14, and his votes may change based on new information. If the votes are made public or announced in the December board meeting, the Gazette will be sure to report on them.