Masks, mental health and more
Ennis trustee candidates vie for voter support
The community filled the stands of the Ennis High School gym on April 16 for a board of trustees candidate Q&A forum. Four of the five candidates running for two open seats attended the gathering.
Candidates were given eight questions drafted by the Madison Valley Education Association. The inquiries touched upon candidates’ experience in the community, their thoughts on current school policy, financial responsibilities of the district, and more, including their best hopes for the future of the school, and specifically, what next year should look like.
Trustee candidate Dino Fanelli was unable to attend but did write in his responses. Fanelli’s written response in regard to next school year was succinct: he wants to see sporting events reopened to the public and the mask policy gone.
Candidate Burleigh C.W. Leonard has a different view on the mask mandate. He said he thinks the current administration “has done an admiral job in striking a balance, a commonsense balance between trying to provide as much of a normal school environment as they could, without jeopardizing the health of our children,” he said, continuing, “I for one do not mind the inconvenience of wearing a mask if it allows for one child to avoid getting Covid.”
Beynd the virus issue Leonard said he’d like to see more time and attention spent on the civic education of our children, helping them understand how to conduct debates in a civil way, and give them critical thinking skills, the ability to actively listen, and finally, to give them “the tools with which to wind their way through this maze of information, this tsunami of data and opinions that they are subjected to.”
Candidate Kyle Stone agreed with Fanelli. “We need to open up our schools back up, we need to open it without restrictions, without masks,” he said.
Mental health and providing opportunities that inspire students should also be highlighted as a priority, said Stone. “We are not doing that right now, we are only worried about the physical impacts of this virus and we are not putting mental health to the forefront,” he said, envisioning next year to look like it did before the virus. “If we can get this school back open, this will be the place that reunites this community.”
Citing Covid survival death rates, candidate Kirk Cardoso would also like to see a 2021/22 school year free of masks. “I do not want anybody living in fear,” he said. “I don’t want the kids growing up living in fear.” Cardoso said he’s more concerned about the death rate among students due to suicide than with Covid. “I want to see a free, open school,” said Cardoso.
Cardoso would like to see a free and open prom as well. “They should do as they please,” he said. “If they want to wear a mask, wear a mask. I don’t think it should be mandated.” A drug free environment should also be provided, he said, as he’s heard drugs are an issue, and if so, should be addressed.
Candidate Lindsay Leadbetter-DeGroot gave kudos to teachers, staff and school board for “majorly stepping up to the plate this year and last year, with professionalism and accommodation.” DeGroot commended the efforts to provide a supportive educational environment as they faced the many challenges presented to them.
DeGroot said she’s hopeful Covid will be in the rearview next year, “So we can get back to what really, really matters, which is providing educational opportunities for our kids so that they can grow into healthy and productive citizens.”
The forum concluded with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions of the candidates. Several did so, inquiring about candidates’ thoughts on topics such as homeschooling and returning to 100% in-person learning.
Clinical Therapist Rachael Myers came to the podium to address the four prospective trustees in attendance, stating that she’s seen a large uptick in interest in therapy for community youth, and wondering, what would the candidates do to address mental health issues, that have been here long before Covid-19?
Cardoso reiterated national statistics, “We are losing more students to suicide than we are to Covid. If there are concerns that parents have due to the inconsistencies of our school schedule, then those need to be addressed. We can’t live in fear, I don’t want a generation growing up living in fear,” he said. Beyond Covid, Cardoso believes the district should take an active role in determining what is causing a student’s distress. “We need to root it out and attack it at its core,” he said.
As a mental health professional, DeGroot said she would like to see more mental health resources in the school, including a full-time counselor or an on-site clinical therapist, not just a part-time school counselor who has other duties as well. “So kids don’t have to go out into the community, so it’s way easier for them to get services in the school,” she said.
Leonard prefaced his response by stating that he was trained as a lawyer, not a mental health professional. He said he’s happy to put his trust in mental health professionals, “For professional guidance as to things we can do as a school board and school district to address very pressing needs associated with the mental health of our children,” he said.
Stone thinks underlying issues need to be fixed before mental health issues arise. “What I see in this community is not enough activities with kids,” he said. “There are some great after school things done outside of the school, and I think if we can provide more activities here at the school – clubs – get these kids involved in things.”
Election Day is May 4. Care to learn more before casting your mail-in only ballot? The forum and Q&A are available to view on Youtube via the NEWS link on the Ennis School District’s website.