Changes on horizon for Waterloo schools

Looking toward the future was a large theme of Monday’s Waterloo School Board meeting, with talk of technology updates and potential COVID protocol shifts being hot topics. 

Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron said it appears the district has gotten “over the hump” of large teacher and student absences due to sickness that it experienced in the weeks after winter break. 

With this, Charron said he is looking forward to continuing operations as normal as possible. 

Tech talk

Waterloo High Principal Lori Costello, district technology director Nick Hergenroeder and other administrators reviewed plans to update the camera security system at WHS. Hergenroeder said the new outdoor surveillance system will provide more cameras, better coverage and comes with a better warranty. 

Charron said that in recent weeks, another technology need at the high school has revealed itself. 

“We’ve recognized in the last three weeks that our sound system in the gymnasium is not working properly. We had some of our own employees that are the closest we have to a tech guru work on it and there’s still something malfunctioning. We’re getting some feedback and it’s just not performing at the quality of a system that it is,” Charron said. 

The district will soon be considering upgrading the audio-visual system in the WHS auditorium and will need to replace a batch of Chromebooks as well. 

Charron explained that because these projects were not line items in the approved budget for this fiscal year, yet the district has funds to complete them, he brought them before the board this week with the preface the expenditures will be voted on at a later date. 

Charron said he expects the surveillance system will be approved at February’s meeting and the gymnasium updates will most likely be approved too. The other technology improvements will be discussed at later dates. 

Community & COVID

During the public participation portion of Monday’s meeting, parent Zachary Sheets expressed concern over the board’s COVID exclusion policies. 

Sheets said that one of his children was potentially a close contact and he was asked to pick her up from school – even though he said she was not sick. 

“I’m from America, where it’s innocent until proven guilty. With this COVID stuff, they’re guilty until I can prove her innocent, which is wrong! I shouldn’t have to prove my child is healthy,” Sheets said. “You guys isolated her for three hours before I came and got her. You threatened (the Department of Child and Family Services) on me for not picking up my child.” 

Charron responded that the health department advised the school district to contact DCFS should Sheets refuse to retrieve his child.

Later, Sheets said his other child was in a similar close contact situation but was not sent home. 

“All I can tell you is that we look at every individual situation and if it’s marginal, we share those circumstances with the health department and make a joint decision together,” Charron responded, adding when COVID was not spreading rapidly through the community in the fall, less kids may have been sent home as close contacts while when the recent surge hit, the health department advised districts to ‘tighten up.’ 

“So, I’m not disputing what you’re saying,” Charron continued, addressing Sheets. “I don’t know what the circumstances were … it’s not a science for us … and nobody here claims to be an expert at this. We don’t claim to know exactly what’s going on. All we’re doing is trying to follow the rules and keep school open the best we can.” 

These “rules” at Illinois school districts may soon change, though. As Charron summarized, Waterloo is expecting Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grishow to rule on whether to grant a temporary restraining order regarding mask and exclusion policies. 

“We are expecting a ruling coming this Friday on whether or not the courts are going to uphold the governor’s authority to issue an executive order or not. I suspect that ruling will have an immediate impact on what school will look like for us on Monday morning,” Charron said, adding he will let parents know if policies will change as a result of Grishow’s decision. 

As school board member Jodi Burton summarized, “Bottom line – we follow the rules.” 

On a non-COVID related note, one community member praised administration, district counselors, school nurses and faculty for helping implement a Section 504 plan after his family member, who is a student in the district, suffered a concussion. 

“The 504 Plan has helped tremendously,” he said. “She’s not going to have to miss a year of school and make it up because she’s almost all caught up, and I just appreciate what everybody did.” 

After the meeting, Charron further explained what a Section 504 plan is. 

“What that does is it provides provision for a school district to work with a family for any injury or disability that is recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Charron said. 

Other business 

The school board also approved a resolution to authorize the sale of not over $5.8 million in general obligation school refunding bonds.

“This is not new money that we’re accessing. These are current bonds that we are paying off, but they are currently callable and there are better interest rates that we can achieve, so we are expending over five years’ time to save taxpayers approximately $200,000,” Charron explained. 

The board also held a second reading for and adopted district board policies in accordance with PRESS Plus Issue 108. 

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Madison Lammert

Madison is a reporter at the Republic-Times. She has over six years of experience in journalistic writing. Madison is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mass communications. Before graduating and working at the Republic-Times, Madison worked for SIUE’s student newspaper, The Alestle, for many years. During her time there she filled many roles, including editor-in-chief. When she is not working, she likes to spend time with her dog and try new restaurants across the river.
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