By Charles Shiver
The Cook County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday, July 13, to approve the school reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cook County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tim Dixon and Student Services Director Henry Acree presented the plan during the school board’s work session.
Dr. Dixon said the school system’s No. 1 priority is the safety and welfare of children, but curriculum and instruction are important. He offered an overview of the reopening plan, which is inside this week’s issue and posted on the school system’s website and on the Adel News Tribune’s Facebook page. More details will be presented at the next BOE meeting for approval by the board.
The plan was developed with input from all the RESA District’s school systems, the South Health District, and the Cook County Health Department.
The plan calls for two options for families, “A.1, Traditional Learning Model” (in-school learning), or “A.2, Online Learning from Home.” This level is used when there is low or no community spread of COVID-19. The community will start the school year at this point. The percentage of infection is 0 to 5 percent over a 14-day pattern.
The second level is a “Hybrid Learning Model,” when there is minimal to moderate community spread. Under this plan, school buildings are opened and have limited or staggered use for students. The student body will be divided up with half to attend school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and half to attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be used for online learning and cleaning of the schools. The percentage of infection is 6 to 9.9 percent.
The third level is a “Remote Learning Model,” when there is substantial spread. School buildings are closed for school wide cleaning, and total distance learning will be implemented. The percentage of infection is 10 or more percent.
In response to a question raised on Facebook, Dr. Dixon said teachers had been personally contacted and asked whether they felt comfortable in returning to school despite the virus spike. “I do know the principals reached out to the individual teachers at each school, and they had conversations,” he said. In fact, he noted, school officials planned to match a few teachers who are at high health risk with high health risk students: “So they will still be able to work, but they will be able to work from home.”
In response to a question from Board Member Jeff Taylor, Dr. Dixon said students who participate in classwork through distance learning will still be allowed to play football and join other extracurricular activities.
On Thursday, Dr. Dixon is scheduled to pick up enough masks from the State for 3,100 students, as well as for employees. The State is highly recommending the wearing of masks in schools. The schools also will have thermometers and hand sanitizer in use. CARES Act funding will be used to pay for those products.
The school board also unanimously approved an updated 2020-21 school system calendar, as presented by Curriculum Director Joy Folsom during Monday’s work session.
The calendar change moves two teacher in-service days from May 26 and 27, 2021, (at the end of the school year) to July 27 and 28, 2020. Also, the start of the 2020-21 school year for students will be moved from Wednesday, Aug. 5, to Monday, Aug. 10.
This will give teachers 10 days of pre-planning at the beginning of the school year (from July 27 to July 31, and from Aug. 3 to Aug. 7), so they will be trained for higher levels of online classes with students.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the BOE unanimously approved a technology request purchase of 700 Chromebooks, as presented by Professional Development Director Laural Heard during the work session. The Chromebooks will be used by students whose parents choose A.2, Online Learning from Home.
In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, the school system didn’t have the capability to offer this option. A $3.5 million literacy grant will cover the purchase of Chromebooks. The total cost of the Chromebooks is estimated at approximately $192,500.
Still, school officials are working on a plan to ensure that proper Internet service is provided to all the students involved.
Also during the July 13 work session:
Board Chairman Chad Sumner thanked the community for their support following the loss of his uncle, Ronnie Joe Sumner. Board Member Jeff Taylor led a moment of silence in memory of two young men, former Hornets, who lost their lives recently: Jeffery Franklin Jr. and Dee Turner. The gathering then participated in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jackie Sparks, the school system’s Finance Director, reported that Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) collections were up by $17,848.65 in June, after being down by $2,324 in May.
She said ESPLOST collections are up by $77,889.88 for the year, a 3 percent growth from last year.
Mrs. Sparks anticipates that the school system’s ending fund balance for the fiscal year will be approximately $5 million.
Turning to the school system’s FY 19 Audit, Mrs. Sparks said the auditors found “clean” books with no findings. This was the third straight year with no findings. The school system did receive a management letter for minor “reclassification” errors.
The Board went into executive session, closed to the public, to discuss personnel matters. Board Attorney Danny Studstill also was asked to join the closed session to discuss legal matters. No action was reported taken on the matters during the regular open session.
Other business during the Monday, July 13, regular meeting of the Board of Education:
Board Member Frank Carter gave the invocation, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
FFA COVID-19 Chapter Assistance Program Grant
Following a presentation by CHS teacher Hannah Getz during the work session, the board unanimously approved applying for a FFA COVID-19 Chapter Assistance Program Grant. The grant request can be up to $2,000.
Following a presentation by Professional Development Director Laural Heard during the work session, the board unanimously approved assessing a $5 technology (rental) fee per school year for each school system device used by a student. The fee will help the schools recoup the cost of minor damage to the devices.
School Nutrition grocery bid
The board unanimously approved a School Nutrition Program grocery bid from ACC Distributors. (Finance Director Jackie Sparks presented the bid information on behalf of School Nutrition Director Libby Peters during the work session.)
Upon the recommendation of Finance Director Sparks, the board unanimously approved a continuing spending resolution for the month of August.
The school system has received some allocation figures from the State that school officials can use in developing the new budget. A public hearing/called meeting on the proposed budget is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. July 21 at the BOE Central Office. A preliminary budget will be placed on the table at the Aug. 10 meeting, and school officials expect to finalize the budget in September.
ESPLOST Election Results Resolution
During the work session, Board Attorney Danny Studstill discussed an ESPLOST Election Results Resolution. The board unanimously adopted the resolution certifying or accepting the official results from the recent election on renewing the ESPLOST for school system projects, i.e., new athletic facilities at CHS.
Referendum election results were 1,973 “yes” and 692 “no” votes. The results from early voting in March were also included, 426 “yes” and 132 “no.” Those results were added together to come up with the final official SPLOST election returns.
Field maintenance bids
All voted in favor of a bid for maintenance of all the school system’s athletic fields, including the new field at the new football stadium. Maintenance Director Larry Young presented the bid during the work session. (The work put out to bid doesn’t include mowing.)
All voted in favor of continuing with Altman & Barrett Architects for the next group of new athletic facilities and other projects, to be funded by the renewed ESPLOST. Dr. Dixon made this recommendation during the work session.
Cook County Library Board appointment
All voted in favor of appointing Becky Harris to a three-year term on the Cook County Library Board. Her term began July 1, 2020.
Greene’s Insurance renewal proposal
All voted in favor of accepting an insurance renewal proposal from Greene’s Insurance. During the work session, Dr. Dixon said the company had shopped out the insurance and saved the school system $29,000.
2020-2021 BOE meeting dates
All voted in favor of setting 2020-2021 Board of Education meeting dates as proposed.