By Kendra Hennis
The Villa Grove Board of Education meeting was called to order at 6 p.m. on July 20. Board members met in social distancing fashion and board member Zimmerman was absent.
The board began by acknowledging the retirement of Alice McKeehan who worked in the cafeteria for 21 years and Glenda Trowbridge who provided transportation for the district for 28 years, and thanked them for their service to the school.
The board then moved into discussing the fall re-opening plan based off of the Illinois State Board of Education’s COVID-19 guidelines. They began by looking at the survey results provided by 305 families in the district. In the pre-K to sixth grade group 109 families were in favor of in-person instruction, 58 preferred a blended option of in-person and online, and 31 wanted a remote learning option. On the junior high side, 58 families liked the option of in-person learning, 28 wanted a blended option, and 8 families liked a remote learning option. For high school, 74 families preferred an in-person learning option, 49 liked a blended option, and 18 wanted a remote option. They also evaluated that 38 percent of students would need some kind of transportation option, like taking the bus with their masks on. Another important factor of remote learning is if students have access to the internet at home. 88 percent of families reported having access to WIFI and 90 percent said they had a hotspot or mobile option available. Some of the challenges of families presented to the board included balancing homeschool and work and the ability to help students with homework.
Looking at their staff survey, the board had 88 responses from staff. The pre-K to sixth grade group reported that 56 percent preferred an in-person option, 40 percent wanted a blended option, and 8 percent would like a remote option. In the junior high, 54 percent reported wanting an in-person option, 36 percent wanted a blended option, and 10 percent preferred a remote option. For the high school, 41 percent would like an in-person option, 43 percent wanted a blended option, and 16 percent were in favor of a remote option. The staff noted that shorter days would be most helpful to them.
Superintendent Carol Munson said that they took all of these factors as well as the guidance provided by the Illinois State Board of Education to develop their tentative fall reopening plan. She noted that it was almost impossible to meet all social-distancing and safety guidelines with all students in the building, so the board developed a blended plan that they hope will work best for their students and staff. Munson did emphasize that the board would still need to develop a remote-learning plan with the possibility of guidelines changing.
The blended plan includes dividing each grade in half with half of the students attending on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other half attending on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be reserved as remote learning days and there will be a 2 p.m. dismissal every day. Due to the strict restrictions and guidelines from the state, special education students and teachers will meet Monday through Thursday. Preschool students will also be in attendance daily as they are an independent program, but they will still be required to meet guidelines. All days, including Fridays, require five hours of instruction. Previously approved calendar dates remain however there is the addition of three blended learning days, two of which will be used at the beginning of the year to ensure that the school is fully prepared for students to return. As per Illinois state law, masks and social-distancing are required at all times. Planned mask breaks will happen outside throughout the day when proper social distancing can happen. Additional cleaning protocols will also be in place. Munson noted that this is only the current proposal and that the state board of education can change the guidelines in guidance at any time before the school year begins. The board does anticipate some guidance changes but they hope that this plan works best for all students and staff. The board approved the fall reopening plan as presented.
The board also responded to a lot of comments from the public. It was asked what would happen if someone began experiencing symptoms and what the plan would be for possibly quarantining those around them. Munson replied that the Douglas County Health Department would then take over and develop contact tracing and present guidance from there. It was asked if there would be an option provided for students whose parents preferred a remote learning option. Munson responded that unless it was for a medical reason, she did not recommend this because there are not enough resources for those students. However, if it was for a medical reason the school would be able to assist them. It was asked if extra money would be given to the schools for cleaning supplies and extra expenses. Munson responded that yes, the school had received the CARES grant, which they used to purchase additional cleaning supplies and resources as well as technology for families that need it.
They were also asked about the possibility of doing Mondays and Tuesdays as a group and Wednesday and Thursday as a group but Principal Beck explained that when they considered this option they concluded that it would be difficult for students to see their teachers on Tuesday and then not again until the following Monday. It was also asked about if high school students would continue to switch classrooms. Principal Jones replied that they were still working out the details but they planned on still switching classrooms with the expectations that the older students will be able to follow guidelines. The board noted that they had no plans of reducing staff at this time and that they would consider the possibility of loosening up on employee wardrobe guidelines.
Someone asked about remote learning on Fridays and about what resources would be provided to families without internet capabilities. Munson responded that the school will help as much as they can to offer assistance as well as possibly setting up the option for students to come into the school to use the computers. It was asked about substitute teachers and what the board’s plan was when there was inevitably a shortage of them. Munson replied that once the tentative plan was approved that they would begin contacting substitute teachers to see who would still be willing to help. It was also asked about daycare problems and what the school was going to do to respond to those issues. Munson explained that they are planning on sending out another survey to families to see what they can do to best help families. She noted that they are already at work to make sure that siblings are on the same plan to assist families. Munson also stressed that this process is definitely going to be a challenge and it can only be successful if the community helps in following the same guidelines saying, “we can only control what we can control at school.”
In the remainder of her Superintendent’s report Munson talked construction updates with the board. They had some issues with CTS that CTS is going to take responsibility for in the amount of $25,000 in assumed costs. So far construction is still on schedule.
The board then moved to Principal Sara Jones report. She reported that the board had received a letter from SIUC congratulating their former students on making the Dean’s List. Jones also said that they still plan on holding a high school graduation ceremony Sunday, July 26 at 7 p.m. on the football field. She is hopeful that nothing changes and noted that masks and social-distancing are required for the event.
Following, elementary school Principal Bobby Beck gave his report. He relayed that they are beginning their trial run of online registration tomorrow, and if it is successful they will be sending out information to everyone on how to get registered. He said that once things are up and running it is encouraged but not required to register online. Beck also said that families without internet access and unable to register can call the school to set up an appointment for registration.
The board also:
* Approved the regular board meeting minutes from the June 18 meeting.
* Approved the closed session minutes from the June 18 board meeting.
* Authorized the payment of bills.
* Approved the 4:50 policy for payment procedures.
* Approved the 7:40 policy for nonpublic school students, including Parochial and home-schooled students.
* Approved the 7:130 policy for student rights and responsibilities.
* Approved the 7:325 policy for student fundraising activities.
* Approved the 8:80 policy of gifts to the district.
* Approved the food, bread, and milk bids for the 2021-2021 school year.
* Approved the first reading of PRESS Plus Issue #104.
* Approved the Extra Duty Roster.
* Approved moving to closed session to discuss the appointment, employment, compensation, resignation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity.
* Adjourned until the August 17 board meeting at 6 p.m.