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Tuscola Board of Education discusses fall reopening

By Kendra Hennis 
The Tuscola Board of Education began their July 27 meeting with a board retreat at 6 p.m. to discuss the timeline and issues presented with the possible rebuilding of a new high school. Unfortunately, they were not able to get an architect to the high school in time and they now need to revise a new timeline. The board agreed that with the current state of the coronavirus situation that their hope of building a high school right now might be too aggressive, and that a plan of milestones and goals would probably be more appropriate at this time. The board hopes to get information out as to why they believe this rebuild is needed by sharing photos in both newspapers as well as hopefully coordinating something where visitors would be able to come in the high school. They also need to receive input from the engineer as to what they believe needs to be done or could be done with the building rather than just fully demolishing it. Alexander will coordinate with an electrical engineer to visit the high school and East Prairie to evaluate the electrical work needed. The board plans on revisiting the topic at the August meeting where the engineer should be able to come provide input. They adjourned the board retreat at 6:34 p.m.

The meeting of the Tuscola Board of Education was called to order at 7 p.m. on July 27. All members were present with members Martin Marx, Jessi Young, and Bob Devlin joining via Zoom. 

The meeting began with the reading of a submitted public comment from Marnie Leonard, Nicole Mannen, and Glenda Wold, alumni of TCHS. The letter said, “The school district website says it aims to help students “become responsible citizens with an understanding of the global interdependence of all people and societies in an ever-changing environment.” This is an admirable goal. Tuscola students should be given the tools to be well-educated global citizens — cross-cultural communication and understanding is an important skill, one that grows more and more vital every day. However, Tuscola schools are not currently meeting this goal and Tuscola students do not leave our schools prepared to live in culturally diverse communities. As three Tuscola graduates who have left Tuscola to live in vastly more diverse cities and countries, we can attest to this. This is why we have created a Petition for Cultural Inclusivity in Tuscola Schools, which is attached as an addendum. We have begun collecting signatures on this petition and request that it be made an agenda item for the next school board meeting. The three points of the petition are summarized below: Curriculum revision: Develop syllabi across all schools and all subjects that integrate additional racially and culturally relevant content into the curriculum.Concrete action: Take concrete steps to incorporate anti-racist policies and learning opportunities into Tuscola schools, such as establishing an assembly series on anti-racism and establishing a comprehensive reporting procedure for both students and teachers who witness or experience racism. Redesign imagery: It’s not enough to remove the Native American head from the Tuscola Warriors mascot. All Native American imagery, including the spear and feather, needs to be removed. Additionally, the school dress code should be revised to ban apparel that features racist symbols such as swastikas and the Confederate flag. We believe that these will be good starting points in the process of truly preparing Tuscola students for the culturally diverse world they will encounter after they graduate. Too often, our alumni realize how much was left out of their hometown education once they move to more diverse communities. Tuscola alumni should be able to feel proud of the education they received here, and these three petition points are a step in that direction. We hope to be able to discuss this with the board further at the next school board meeting. Thank you.”

Superintendent Gary Alexander then presented the communications to the board. The first was from Jeannie Craddock, thanking them for making her retirement in the spring so special. The second was from Jim Voyles, former TCHS Principal, commending TCHS Principal Steve Fiscus on how he handled the challenging ending of the school year at TCHS. He said that he was glad that the school had Fiscus leading them during these difficult times. 

In his Principal’s report, North Ward Principal Jason Wallace began by saying that preschool and kindergarten screenings happened last week, reporting that they went well and it was nice to see kids and be able to safely spread them across the school to get them set up for this year. He told the board that he and his committee have been planning for next year with all of the new guidelines and how to best meet them. Wallace also talked more about this year’s PBIS plan, reported that the school would have three student teachers this year, and that Miss Steadley and Mrs. Sanders both received Golden Apple awards, which recognize their excellence in teaching by the state of Illinois. He ended by encouraging staff to start being a good example for their students by wearing their masks the right way, and all the time.

High school Principal Steve Fiscus then reported that some of the summer projects at the school have been completed, including the graphics in the gym, the outside window decals, the reconfiguration of the high school office in order to accommodate the new pass-through window, the school door projects, and that the classrooms were almost finished. He thanked all involved for their help in the projects. Fiscus also noted that they too were working on a back to school plan and would be finalizing that soon. He then reported that athletic workouts have stopped but he is hopeful that they will soon resume. He commented that at this time they haven’t heard about fall sports, but that the IHSA would be meeting on Wednesday and was hopeful they would receive direction from them. He ended noting that the high school would also have a student teacher in computer science for half of the year, and that they would be spending the remaining half at East Prairie.

East Prairie Principal Jared Vanausdoll began by reporting to the board that the IESA has canceled early spring sports seasons, which does not include basketball. He hopes that the board will have a decision on the season soon. He then moved to thank Tony and the rest of his crew on a great job with the building, also saying that construction should wrap up in the next week and things look great. Vanausdoll then reported that he has been able to meet with staff as well as the building committee to collaborate on back to school. He said that it has been great to meet and work with everyone and that he is thankful for their support in this process. He ended saying that he is excited to announce that with the help of fifth grade teachers and student council, they will be able to create a virtual welcome tour for fifth grade  students whose orientations were canceled last year.

Superintendent Gary Alexander began his report by saying that luckily the high school will be able to do the same thing for freshman orientation and that the school is working on that. He  then moved on to talking about the finances, explaining that property taxes are down as well as that they are unsure of the allocation of funds for the upcoming year. He has some concerns but assured that the school is going to do the best they can. Alexander also explained that the school received some money from the CARES Act which allowed them to purchase additional cleaning supplies and chromebooks for the upcoming year. These chromebooks will be helpful as some students transition to remote learning. He encouraged students who are looking at remote options but need the technology to reach out to the school and they will help with getting them necessary devices. Alexander reported to the board that the summer work is progressing, with a finishing goal of August 12. He also commented that online registration ends July 31, and that in-person registration will happen on August 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. He ended by saying that the auditors would be at the school August 12 and 13, they were interviewing a high school drivers ed and pe teacher, and that the school board conference had been canceled. 

In the new business section, the board looked at the policy updates 103 and 104. Alexander reported that most of these changes were mandated changes that we just needed to put into place in our policies. The board was told to look the changes over and that they would review them at the August meeting. The board then talked about their current return to school plan. The plan has been released publicly with a remote learning plan also included. The remote learning plan will look different than it did in the spring, treating it as if students are in the classroom, just at home. Students will be on camera in the classroom, attendance will be taken, and they will recieve normal grades. If you are planning on a remote learning option, the board asks that you please fill out the survey on the website or Facebook page, with your student’s name and grade so they can prepare for the upcoming year. Alexander said that he wanted to provide as much information as they had in order to be transparent with families so they can decide what is best for their students. He also commented that building committees were meeting this week and then they will meet as a larger committee next Tuesday to finalize a plan to then bring to an emergency board meeting to vote on in the next couple of weeks. Alexander noted that there are a lot of changes to the upcoming school year including masks being required, having to self-certify your children, and that there is only one entrance available so that students can have certifications and masks checked. He said he feels that the plan addresses the new guidelines well, and that it will take some work to adjust to a new normal. Alexander asks that everyone please be patient as the changes come, saying that we’re gonna work together and get through them in order to provide the best possible education.

Board president Cathy Mannen had some questions about the plan, noting some hesitation. She asked about the teacher and student privacy policies and if there was concern if they were being recorded for the lectures. It was explained that they plan on using Google classroom which is only available within the application and using it differently violates the correct technology usage protocol. Mr. Fiscus also informed her that parents give consent for their children to be photographed during registration and they can choose to not do that if they don’t want them on video. They would not be filming group work or anything like that since that’s not something they could even do right now, just the teacher teaching. She also suggested that the administration works with the Douglas County Health Department to create a and release a plan for what people should do if they test positive for COVID-19. Member Brad Ingram then asked if we had a back up plan if we ran into technology problems. Fiscus explained that if we lost the Internet the lessons could be recorded and then students could access them anytime from Google classroom. The administration agreed that they were trying to think of everything to keep students safe and was following the guidelines given to them, saying health and safety is their number one priority. Alexander will coordinate with the board to get a special meeting planned once the committees have finalized their plans. 

The board also: 

* Approved the minutes of the June 22 regular board meeting. 

* Approved the payment of bills in the amount $970,155.63.

* Approved the monthly Treasurer’s report. 

* Approved the monthly Bookkeer’s report. 

* Approved the amended 2020-2021 school calendar.

* Approved the recommendation to destroy Verbatim Records older than 18 months. 

* Approved the recommendation to continue to seal the minutes. 

* Approved moving to closed session for the purposes defined in 5 ILCS 120/2 (c) (1) (2).

* Approved the hiring of Bryson Gibson as EP Paraprofessional.

* Approved the hiring of Angela Romine as EP Paraprofessional. 

* Approved the TCHS Coaches List as submitted.

* Approved Bob Devlin as volunteer coach for Jr High Boys Basketball.

* Adjourned until the August 24 board meeting at 7 p.m.

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