MG board approves plan for school reopening

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

MOUNT GILEAD — Mount Gilead School Superintendent Larry Zimmerman emphasized the importance of keeping the community healthy as the Mount Gilead School Board discussed plans to reopen school, beginning Sept. 9.

School employment contracts were approved along with supplemental contracts and purchases of textbooks and curriculum. Two funds were created for the acceptance of emergency relief grants to schools related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants can be used for both the training of professional staff as well as for educational services for students.

The board meeting opened on a positive note with Treasurer Tina Gabler reporting that “savings outweigh expenses this year.” That is because purchased services and supplies expenditures were down for the fiscal year 2020. The ending savings over estimated forecast amount was $481,592.

“I think we can weather the storm by using reserves and special funds,” she said.

Gabler said the five-year forecast will be more difficult to predict this year. She is looking at recovery in past recessions so she can give a full five-year report later this fall. In past years following a recession, income tax revenue had the biggest loss.

Plan for re-opening

Student Services Director Molly Clapper said that two task forces worked on reopening plans. Both the Instructional Task Force and the Health and Safety task force were made up of parents, teachers, administrators and community members.

“It is so important for the community to know that this was a group effort and not just coming from district leaders,” Clapper said adding that it was a labor of love for the children.

Aug. 24 begins teacher work days and parents academy will be held at the end of August so that staff and parents are clear on safety measures and procedures.

“When the kids start, we want them to be ready for school and instruction,” Zimmerman said, adding that it’s important to have additional time for preparation with so many changes.

“Our goal is to provide an umbrella of safety for students and staff,” Zimmerman said. “It is our goal to keep kids in school. It will take a community effort. The community needs to keep healthy.”

Students begin Sept. 9

Provided that Morrow County has a public risk level of yellow or orange, school will begin Sept. 9, 10 and 11. This will be a “soft start” to school tentatively based on last names.

Whether there is complete reopening with instruction in school will depend on the public guidelines of COVID-19 risk levels yellow, orange, red or purple.

With orange, or yellow level Morrow County now has, school can open with in-school instruction. There will be temperature taking, hand washing and sanitizing, distancing and additional space separations, a nurse in each school building, and pick-up procedures for sick students.

If the county goes to a red level, school is open on a hybrid level with half the students in the buildings, two days and remote learning three days. With purple public level, all learning will be remote and children will be provided with a chrome book or I pad if they don’t have one.

Face coverings, schedules

The board did not make a final decision about having face coverings or masks in the reopening policy. Teachers and staff will definitely be required to have a face covering or mask. The exception would be if there is a documented health reason not to wear a mask and the superintendent would have the final decision on whether they would be exempt.

Board President Mike Sayers said he has received calls both pro and con about children wearing masks. He said he would like to see clarification on the legal aspects of requiring masks before a decision is made on the policy.

Zimmerman reported on the July survey sent to parents. 65 percent want to come back to in-school instruction. 20 percent prefer remote learning and 15 percent are undecided. He said some parents want to come back, but only if children are not required to wear a mask and some will come back only if all children are required to wear a mask.

The transportation plan recommended was approved for “staggered” bus routes. This is due to the requirement of only 48 students per bus and loading back to front.

The middle school and hiigh school day would be 7:45 a.m.-2:40 p.m. and elementary 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. This plan would mean that waiting times at buildings would not be needed and there would be less disruption. It would also be best from a cost standpoint.

School day logistics

There are to be no shared school supplies. Donations for supplies will be taken for each school building. Class release times at the high school and middle school will be staggered to reduce hallway traffic. Restrooms can be visited during classes at high school and middle school and will be closed during class changes.

Middle School and High School can have locker visits three times a day. Lockers will be open and empty for cleaning at night. Water bottles are OK and water fountains will be used with cups only or may be closed.

Plastic dividers will be used to enable teachers to work closer with students one on one or in small groups. Small table top dividers have been purchased for elementary classrooms.

Remote learning

The district is committed to educating any students that decide to continue remote learning. They ask that they commit to a full semester at home and there is a contract for families to fill out that details responsibilities and expectations. Firm numbers are needed so that teaching arrangements can be made.

Clapper added that the district is also “leaning on the county health department and working with other districts to have a county plan.”

“We are doing the best we can with everything that is thrown at us and it sometimes changes day to day,” Clapper said.

Detailed descriptions for reopening, employment and supplemental contracts are available online at click on: Menu, Departments, Board of Education, Link to Board Docs, Enter Public site, Meetings, July 28, 2020 Agenda, and document icons.

The next Mount Gilead School Board meeting will be Aug. 18 at 7 p.m.

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel