During the regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 25, the Owosso School Board of Education voted to continue following instructions on managing COVID-19 through the county health department. One longtime board member disagreed – mostly due to perceived confusion over communication efforts between the board and the county in recent months.

   Some controversy arose when Owosso School Board Vice President Shelly Ochodnicky, a board member for 12 years, spoke during two recent Shiawassee Board of Commissioner meetings in Corunna. Ochodnicky had introduced herself in the meetings with her position as a school board member, continuing to outline frustrations related to attempted communications on her own part with the health department, seeking clarification on language supplied to the school on COVID-19 protocols and instructions.

   The most recent language Ochodnicky has questioned was released Oct. 7. The instructions from the health department involve an option to test-to-stay. Instead of isolating infected students/staff for 10 days or quarantining cases of close contact for seven days, schools can test-to-stay – allowing for a five-day quarantine with rapid testing every morning before school. Students/staff passing the rapid testing are permitted, while wearing marks, to attend school.

   Ten or more community members individually spoke strongly in favor of the health department instructions on Monday evening. The community members included parents, grandparents, school employees and healthcare workers.

   Ann Gamboe-Hall, a parent and previous lawyer with a 10-year-old immunocompromised child with a husband, a teacher, who is also immunocompromised, offered her argument supporting the health department from a legal standpoint. Gamboe-Hall supported the necessity of following the health department instructions based on the 1905 legal case of Jacobson v Massachusetts where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of local health departments to “override personal liberties when it was in the best interest of the public.” She emphasized that in 116 years, that case has stood. “We clearly have a public safety issue here,” she said, detailing the 4.9 million dead worldwide, the 736,000 dead Americans and the 718 active county cases – more than 1-percent of the county.

   Josh Dewley, a Lincoln High School teacher and parent, encouraged the board and the health department to work together, calling for “voices of reason,” supporting health department instructions.

   Tony Newman, the county drain commissioner who has grandchildren in the district, encouraged the board to continue following instructions on quarantining and isolation because “it’s worked.” He supports wearing masks, sharing that his elementary-aged grandchild would wear a mask without issue – something several school staff members and parents agreed on.

   Tom Kurtz, a Memorial Healthcare employee and parent, offered that a board should have “multiple voices in the board room, but only one voice outside,” in reference to Ochodnicky talking as a board member at the commissioner meetings.

   Owosso School Board Trustee Olga Quick introduced a resolution toward the end of the long meeting, to ensure the school district would continue to comply with the health department. The school board voted 6-1 to approve the resolution. Ochodnicky was the only dissenting vote, explaining she had not been given time to read it.

   Board member Marlene Webster offered the following view: “We’ve always followed the recommendations of the health department. We follow the recommendations of the health department when kids come to school with chicken pox. They have to return home. If a student comes to school with head lice, they are sent home. If a student comes to school with strep throat, they are sent home. Those are not pandemic situations. Those are much less communicable than the disease we are currently facing. As a board member, I really want to keep our kids in school without masks, without vaccine mandates, but we’re in a pandemic, so we can’t do nothing.” Webster discussed a safety-first concept in support of the resolution and in continuing with quarantining and isolation in the hope that students could remain in school.

   Responding in a text message, Ochodnicky shared, “I have proudly served and volunteered in our community for 25 years. These have certainly been the most difficult of times.

   It is time to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing in our schools 18 months into this. Nothing has been consistent. We are imposing mandates on our healthy children that we don’t have to live by ourselves. There is no consistency in how we are executing these decisions and requirements. Today, we need to put parents back in charge of their children’s education. We assist them by providing guidance to make the best decisions for their families.”

   On a different note during the meeting, the school district received a positive audit presentation that included an 18 percent fund balance.

   “More than a little over a decade ago,” shared Superintendent Dr. Andrea Tuttle, “We were predicted to be about 20 percent in the hole and so to have an 18 percent fund balance is quite remarkable.” She continued by recognizing that having a fund balance isn’t necessarily the goal, “because we want to give back to the people who work with our kids, our kids and our programming.”

Owosso School Board Will Continue Following County Health Instructions was last modified: November 2nd, 2021 by Karen Elford