Community members express surprise
PRESCOTT – It came as a shock to many in attendance at the Wednesday, Nov. 17 Prescott School Board meeting when District Nurse Cassie Butler read her resignation letter (see sidebar) during public comment time at the meeting’s end.
Butler, who has served as the district’s lead nurse for seven years, said in her letter that she’s accepted a position with Pierce County Public Health. She also expressed discontent with District Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza.
“I am excited to transition to an employer that values, respects and trusts my knowledge and professional recommendations, as this has not been the case with the current district administrator for a while,” Butler read.
Fireworks didn’t erupt at the meeting after Butler’s announcement, nor did chaos ensue. School Board President Mike Matzek congratulated her on her new job. But comments on area social media community pages exploded in disbelief, sadness or fury over what many perceive as the district losing another beloved employee.
See NURSE, Page 13
Cassie Butler ______
Spicuzza told The Journal in an email that Butler didn’t follow several school district policies by reading her resignation letter during school board public comment time.
“All employees are made aware of School Board Policies and updates on an annual basis. In addition, our employee handbook was recently updated, with staff input, at the beginning of the academic year,” Spicuzza said. “The updated employee handbook was approved by the school board in September and shared with all employees. As a lead nurse, Ms. Butler was well aware of the policies in place and had opportunities to convey concerns to her direct supervisors. Threading the needle around COVID practices, mitigation efforts, and protocols is challenging for PSD and every district in the country. Ultimately, as Superintendent I must work within the parameters of what the school board has decided.”
Before reading her letter to the school board, Butler apologized for not submitting her resignation in time to be included in the board packet. She said her offer from PCPH had been finalized late that afternoon.
Spicuzza said Butler violated the board policy for board-staff communications, which states: “The Board has a legitimate interest in maintaining order and facilitating the efficient resolution of concerns by directing that employee communications to the Board move initially through the chain of command to the District Administrator. Employees are expected to follow the established chain of communication as described in this policy. Failure to do so may result in employee discipline.”
Spicuzza also said Butler didn’t follow the policies concerning public comment at board meetings and agenda items at school board meetings.
Although Butler offered to stay until Dec. 31 and help train her replacement, the district decided instead to render her resignation effective immediately. She confirmed to The Journal she was escorted out of the building Friday, Nov. 19. She declined further comment.
Spicuzza also confirmed the district “accepted Ms. Butler’s resignation effective at the end of the business day on Friday, Nov. 19.
“Once an individual resigns from any organization, multiple factors determine the official exit date,” Spicuzza said. “Due to district and employee privacy issues, no additional context around those factors can be shared.”
He said the district is closed for holiday break from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, so finding Butler’s replacement for pre-January training is unlikely.
“While we appreciated the offer of Cassie Butler to stay on to train during an extended transition period, given the circumstance described above, we instead accepted her resignation and assigned her final day as Nov. 19,” Spicuzza said. “The decision to accept the Nov. 19 resignation was made in consideration and consultation with the school district attorney, Weld-Riley, as well as input from other Wisconsin superintendents and the district’s HR director.”
Parent Samantha Helsper has a 4-year-old son with Type 1 Diabetes who attends school in the district. He is fully insulindependent to stay alive. When his blood glucose numbers are decreasing, he needs to consume carbs via fast-acting sugars like cookies, candy or juice.
“We have to have someone who knows how to work his pump and know what to do in the case of any lows or high blood glucose readings,” Helsper said. “If he doesn’t have the sugars in time he could have a seizure … so he needs to be watched very carefully as he still doesn’t quite understand the difference in the feeling of being high or low.”
On Sunday, Nov. 21, Helsper received a text from Malone Elementary Nurse Melanie Charette informing her both she and Butler would be out of the district Monday, Nov. 22 “so there will be no one to monitor/help with Eyzic. Would you be able to keep him home tomorrow from 4K?”
While the district sent a letter to parents on Tuesday, Nov. 23, Helsper said Charette’s text was the only communication she received about no nurse being on staff prior to Monday, Nov. 22, when Charette was off work.
“I wasn’t even aware of what was going on (Butler’s resignation) until I seen it on Facebook,” Helsper said. “Which made me a little angry as my son depends on a nurse being at school. And they didn’t even care to send out an email for anything other than my son’s nurse reaching out.”
Helsper described Butler’s help with Eyzic as amazing and above and beyond.
“They even worked together to get my son a way to have his Dexcom connected to a phone so I could even check that way at home,” Helsper said. “They have worked so hard to ensure my son is safe and it breaks my heart what happened.”
Spicuzza confirmed that Charette was absent Nov. 22 due to a family obligation and that Director of Student Services Mark Inouye and his staff reached out “using multiple methods to best guarantee expedient contact, to a small number of district families with sensitive medical needs.” He added that PSD secured a substitute nurse, Jessica Stute, for Nov. 22 who was onsite by 10 a.m. and remained until the end of the school day.
“However, since we secured the substitute nurse so late on Sunday night, and the timing of the nurse’s arrival that day was fluid, we were unable to communicate the specifics about the substitute’s availability to the few targeted families in a timely fashion,” Spicuzza said. “Some families chose to send their students and helped provide care. Some students stayed home.”
Spicuzza provided the Journal a copy of the notice that went out to parents on Tuesday, Nov. 23 addressing Butler’s departure and the plan going forward. The notice said Butler resigned at the Nov. 17 school board meeting for an opportunity to work with PCPH and AZ Snyder.
“Student safety is paramount in everything we do,” the notice said. “PSD staffing includes two full-time nurses. Mel Charette is our second nurse and is responsible for and trained to provide all of the medical care for our enrolled students, including our students that require a higher level of care.”
Spicuzza described Charette as a competent and capable nurse who is able to provide coverage for all medical procedures. He added that a sub had been secured to work with Charette Nov. 29 and 30 and the district will continue securing a substitute nurse to assist Charette until someone is hired fulltime. Most common prescription medications are administered by trained front office personnel.
“The nurse (Charette) is available to all schools and continues to monitor and administer all medical procedures for students with more challenging medical needs,” Spicuzza said. “As a district we remain committed to employing a school nurse. We remain committed to assisting your student and/or family to receive the best programming possible here in Prescott schools.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and state statute, public school districts are not specifically required to employ a school nurse, but are required to provide for emergency nursing services. Wisconsin Administrative Code requires school districts provide these services under a written policy adopted and implemented by the school board.
“The policies must be developed by a registered nurse in cooperation with other school district personnel and representatives from community health agencies and services,” according to the DPI.
According to PewTrust survey (October 2021), 25% of all schools in Wisconsin have no nurse and 35% have only a parttime nurse. Chris Bucher, a communications specialist for DPI, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July 2020 that hiring school nurses is “a local decision.”
An independent survey conducted by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance in Summer 2020 reported 70% of rural districts responding to the survey had no school nurse at all, while 37% reported having a full-time nurse and 44% said they had a part-time nurse or other forms of health services.
The school board meetings are streamed live on YouTube and video recordings are available for viewing later. However, for several days the Nov. 17 meeting recording link was not available. On Monday, Nov. 22, School Board President Mike Matzek posted this notice on the district’s website: “I would like to extend my apologies for the delay in posting the November 17, 2021 school board meeting video. It was a decision I did not want to rush to make given that it involves comments made that fall outside the scope of what public comment is intended for. After having time to reflect over the weekend, I have decided to have the meeting posted in its entirety, in honor of being fully transparent with the public. I appreciate your patience.”
The Journal had asked for the meeting video link on Nov. 18; school staff said it wouldn’t be available until the following week.