Amanda Bickel said she is torn over whether her daughter, a Brookfield Middle Schooler, should be in
The girl has a health issue that makes Bickel “terrified” every time she gets a notification from the school
– and there have been a lot of them – that says students or staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
In 2020-21, the school had 33 positive COVID cases, 18 staff members and 15 students. Through Sept. 26, with the students have spent parts of five calendar weeks in school, the district had registered 19 positive
student cases and three staff cases. The positive cases also have resulted in dozens of students and staff members who were quarantined due to lengthy exposure to a positive student or staff member.
“I’m so scared for my daughter,” Bickel told the school board Sept. 15. “I want to pull her from school,”
which is what she did last year, keeping the girl home all year.
But, keeping her home caused problems in other areas.
“I saw her decline in every aspect – academically, socially,” Bickel said. “That took a toll on her.”
So, while she frets, she keeps the girl in school.
“I know this is the best place for her,” Bickel said.
Brookfield school officials largely are in the same quandary as Bickel. The number of positive cases,
especially among students, is far outpacing last year’s rate. Yet, Adam Lewis, director of teaching,
learning and accountability, said the students’ academic performance plummeted last year, when the
school offered in-person classes for only 80 of the 180 or so school days.
Lewis presented state test scores that showed that student performance dropped from 2019 to 2021 – there
were no 2020 state tests – in 16 of the 20 tested categories.
In some case, the drops were significant. On the sixth-grade math test, 74 percent of students were
considered proficient in 2019; only 29 percent in 2021. Thirty or more percent drops also were registered
in third-grade math, fifth-grade science, eighth-grade math, and high school algebra.
The biggest gainer was seventh-grade math, and the improvement still only resulted in a 34 percent
The downward spike countered the improvement trend shown in the years 2016 to 2019, Lewis said.
“Our schools were no different than scores across the county and the state,” he said. “Everybody saw this
His takeaway: “I think it shows the importance or our kids being in this building as much as possible.”
The dilemma is how to keep the kids in school, but do it safely. After the third week of school, officials
instituted a mask mandate, which was the subject of much public comment at the school board meeting.
One parent spoke out against it while others were for it, but some thought the school district should be
Before the meeting, school board President Sarah Kurpe asked members of the audience three times to
don masks or they would be asked to leave the building. School Resource Officer Gerald Hockey had
conversations with a few adults who did not want to put on masks, and he said one man left the building
peacefully after he refused to mask up.
Bickel said she was “grateful and relieved” that the mask mandate was instituted.
Parent Dominic Cinicola was not. He said there is no definitive statement as to the performance of masks.
“I’m just nervous that the kids are gonna have the masks on for six hours a day, and then, a couple years down the road, maybe their immune systems are shot,” he said. “Maybe the masks they got are holding the virus in. Instead of them just breathing the virus in really quick, now they got that virus in their mask all day, and then they don’t change them out for a whole week or two.”
While he understands “you gotta do something,” Cinacola asked if there is a way to “get around the
School board member Jerry Necastro said he agreed with the personal rights aspect of Cinacola’s
argument, but said he supported the mask mandate as a short-term test.
“As anybody knows me, I’m not a mask guy,” Necastro said. “I can’t believe I’m sitting here with a mask
on. I’m fully vaxxed. I didn’t listen to Anthony Fauci to get a shot. I sure the hell wouldn’t listen to Joe
Biden. I listened to my doctor. He told me to get the shot. If he tells me to get the booster, I’ll get the
booster. I also understand, in America, everybody has a choice, and I’m a believer in that. But, I also
support (school Supt.) Toby (Gibson) on the masks issue here because we have to, maybe, try to stop the
growth of our kids not being in school.”
“But, if we wear these masks, and the numbers are still through the roof, then I don’t think the masks are
the right thing and they don’t do anything,” he said.
Jamie Teal, a parent and a pulmonary nurse practitioner who cares for COVID patients, many in their final moments, said she can’t comprehend the opposition to masks.
“Masks are not 100 percent, we know that, but I can tell you that masks do help prevent this virus from spreading,” Teal said. “Where people get their information, what internet sources they’re getting it from,
is not always the most valid. The (Centers for Disease Control) does state, whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, you should wear your mask. By us implementing this mask mandate is one of the least
things, as a school district, to protect our kids.”
Responding to complaints about changing guidelines from health officials over time, Teal said, “There’s always room for improvement. Science is an everyday, changing thing. That’s why it’s confusing. We’re
learning as we go. There are certain things in place for a reason that we know to be effective.”
Teal called for school officials to better enforce the mandate so students are wearing effective masks, and
not wearing them off their noses or around their necks. Necastro and parent Derek Mihalcin reported
seeing students entering and riding buses without masks, something Gibson said he would address.
Parent Megan Krepps called for a return of the more stringent safeguards that were in place last year: temperature checks, sneeze guards on desks, and lunch eaten in classrooms instead of the cafeteria.
Gibson responded that the temperature monitors rarely registered a fever, and none of the times they did were the fevers indicative of COVID.
The sneeze guards are “not recognized as a barrier to contact tracing,” Gibson said. “We could have started the year with those and the same number of students would have ended up having to quarantine.”
Concerning eating lunch in classrooms, Gibson said Sept. 24 that there are teachers who are willing to eat lunch in their classrooms while watching students, “which will reduce some of the numbers in a couple of
the lunch periods.”
The number of students eating lunch in the cafeteria will be less, and they will be spaced out more,
Gibson said. He said he hoped the new eating arrangements would begin the week of Sept. 27.
Back at the school board meeting, Gibson said he is monitoring the number of cases and quarantines in
school and trying to balance health and academic concerns.
“It becomes, do you want five days a week, or do you want six feet apart?” he said, noting that he cannot
space students six feet apart with all students in the building. “Based on what Mr. Lewis has showed, the
amount of time that they were out of school, I don’t think anybody would want to go back to their son or
daughter going to school Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday,” a reference to the cohort learning
model that was used for part of last year.
“This is trying to keep as many kids in the building five days a week, every day, for as long as possible,”