By BILL KNIGHT
For The Weekly Post
FARMINGTON – The Board of Education on Monday approved a plan to reopen schools next month for in-person instruction by a 5-1 vote, with some concerns, especially the lack of an option for remote-learning for some parents. Kelly Brewer voted no, stressing the lack of alternatives for households that may have family members who are atrisk during the ongoing pandemic. Superintendent Zac Chatterton said Farmington’s plan complies with guidelines issued by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Illinois Department of Public Health. However, “this is a framework,” Chatterton said. “There are more questions than solutions. It’s just a template. There’s still a lot to work through.” For now, Farmington Central will:
• Conduct daily screenings of everyone entering the buildings,
• Change breakfast to a grab-and-go format, and possibly have an “open campus” for high schoolers and use the gym for some during lunch to permit social distancing. • Students will be received about 7:45 a.m. for classes to start at 8 or 8:15 a.m., and school days will conclude at 2:09 p.m.
• Help families without adequate internet access in case sick kids need remote learning.
• Provide activity passes for families that decline bus transportation.
• Refer students to the Fulton County Health Department if they show symptoms. That could create problems, several Board members said, because though ISBE states, “Individuals who exhibit symptoms should be referred to a medical provider for evaluation, treatment and information about when they can return to school,” its list of symptoms to watch for include not just fever and shortness of breath, but headaches and runny nose, which are common apart from COVID-19.
That could create problems, several Board members said, because though ISBE states, “Individuals who exhibit symptoms should be referred to a medical provider for evaluation, treatment and information about when they can return to school,” its list of symptoms to watch for include not just fever and shortness of breath, but headaches and runny nose, which are common apart from COVID-19. Board member Eric Stanley said, “It’s a fairly worthless document [but] it’s as good as you could do. You have to start somewhere.”
Chatterton didn’t disagree, adding, “This could change. I think there’ll be additional clarification” from the state.” With ISBE occasionally adjusting its guidance since the June 23 release of it 63-page “Starting the 2020-21 School Year,”
Board member Travis Maher said, “This could change tomorrow.” B.J. Oldfield, chairing the meeting in Board president Chad Johnson’s absence, added, “This is totally hypothetical.”
Besides the Board’s lack of enthusiasm, they said they’d heard from staff that some are reluctant to return due to health and safety concerns and issues about remote learning. As part of the changes, the Board approved amending the District calendar, noting that Election Day on Nov. 3 is now a holiday, and the first day of school is moved up one day to Aug. 13, which will be a partial day for students to get accustomed to new policies and procedures.
Even the calendar may change, Chatterton said. “It’ll probably need to be amended after the first semester,” he said. As to Brewer’s concerns, she said, “A large group of people are interested in a remote [learning] situation rather than in-person.” However, the ISBE says districts should plan for such e-learning for children who are immunecompromised but is silent on how to respond to families with immune-compromised people at home, and therefore vulnerable to infections brought home from school. Their only option may be to withdraw kids from school and do home-schooling.
Brewer suggested the District consider providing another remote-learning option for parents. “We’re still focused on in-person opportunities,”
Chatterton said. “After registration and we know more, we can reassess. We can’t do that right now the District will figure something out, an alternative learning plan.” In other business, the Board:
• In closed session discussed a disagreement with Illinois Central Bus Service, which continued to bill the District during the shutdown despite no buses running. No action was taken while negotiations continue.
• Accepted bids from Alpha Baking Co. of Bloomington for bread and Prairie Farms for milk, with a slight increase from last year for bread and a slight decrease for milk,
• OK’d the music department planning for its March trip to Florida because of the lead time in making travel arrangements – with the understanding that it could be cancelled if the pandemic continues into spring,
• Approved getting rid of some undisclosed technology and maintenance equipment, and
• In personnel, the Board hired McKenzie Skaggs as a long-term substitute for the part-time business teacher position that’s open, and Dan Archdale as a part-time vocational teacher for the 2020-21 school year; approved Nicole Helle as a volunteer for the marching band auxiliary; and acknowledged resignations by Technology Assistant Brady Johnson, Cafe worker Amber Ossman, and High School guidance counselor Krista Neave, plus the retirement of Junior High secretary Mary Beth Ralston.
BILL KNIGHT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org