Tuscola BOE approves fall 2020 reopening plan

 By Kendra Hennis
The Tuscola Board of Education called their special meeting to order on August 10, 2020 at 6 p.m. All board members were present with members Brad Ingram, Martin Marx, Jessie Young, and Darold Spillman joining the meeting remotely. Bob Devlin was appointed to take minutes for the meeting in Spillman’s place. 

The board began by talking about their back to school plan. Superintendent Gary Alexander pointed out that since their last meeting there had been some changes to the plan due to guideline changes from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The board then spoke with Douglas County Health Department Administrator Amanda Minor about any questions they had regarding the back to school plan. Minor noted that one of the changes that they had made to the plan is that students now have to receive two negative tests from the Douglas County Health Department before they are able to return to school. Another point in the plan that Minor wanted to emphasize is that all students and employees must get a release from the Douglas County Health Department before they are able to return to school. Minor said that the DCHD will work with all positive tests while they go through quarantine, with staff calling all positives twice a day to check their symptoms and fever. Minor noted that they would also check with close contacts of the positives to monitor their symptoms. Minor also emphasized that in order for someone to get released from the DCHD they would have to spend at least ten days in quarantine and have been fever-free for 24 hours. 

Mannen asked Minor about what the case would be with siblings. If one sibling tested positive, would the other still be able to go to school. Minor said that following IDPH guidelines, both the positive and negative cases would need to be isolated if they came in contact with one another and/or shared close contact. Minor presented that families did have the option of isolating the case if they could ensure that the positive case had no contact with the rest of the family, and their own living, eating, and bathroom space. Devlin asked why it was that if someone tested positive that they only had to be quarantined for a minimum for ten days, and someone that had come in contact with them then had to be quarantined for a minimum of fourteen days. Minor explained that that was due to time delay and the fact that the positive had to have been exposed and positive before coming in contact with the newly exposed person. She also said that it was to give the negative enough time to see if it develops over time. Devlin also asked if someone was tested more than once and received a positive and a negative, which test result would they take. Minor said that it would always be the positive test. 

Mannen then asked how they were going to control someone going back to school before they were supposed to. Minor explained that it was all closely monitored and they would have to have the release from the DCHD to return. Young asked if someone received antibody testing and received that they were positive, how far back the DCHD would go to try and trace it. Minor said that due to the number of unknowns with antibody testing, the IDPH does not encourage using the testing for them to trace the disease. Minor then went back to the topic of isolation, saying that it is only necessary if in close contact (within six feet) for more than fifteen minutes with a positive case. 

Young then asked what would happen if a teacher tested positive. Would it be required for the full fast to be quarantined? Minor said that this would vary on a case by case basis but if they were determined to be in the close contact range of the class then the whole class would have to quarantine. Minor said that the same logic is also the case for sports teams. Minor encourages the necessary social distancing in order to prevent the spread and asks that students, coaches, and teachers practice social distancing at all times. North Ward principal Jason Wallace noted that to help with this, there were many breaks planned throughout the day to take students outside so they could be social distance and give them a break without their mask. He also noted that there are multiple scheduled bathroom breaks throughout the day. Alexander then commented that the school had ordered plenty of cleaning supplies to prepare themselves for the school year. 

Mannen then brought up additional concerns about videotaping and live-streaming in classrooms. Alexander explained that in order to be on the lifestream you have to be invited by the teacher, allowing them to monitor the students. TCHS principal Steve Fiscus said that with the limited class sizes and documentation on everything that the lifestream class sessions may be even safer because it is easier to oversee the classroom and discipline. 

Alexander reported that currently 18 percent of Tuscola students have chosen to follow their remote learning plan, fifty five at the high school and North Ward, and 66 at East Prairie. With no further comments, the board then passed a 5-2 motion to approve the Back to School Plan. 

The board then began to talk about the board member vacancy and election that they have been discussing over the last year. Spillman presented the idea of opening up the pool of candidates due to the current zoning, which would require a resolution to vote at large for the upcoming election. If the board approves the resolution, they will all be up for re-election in the next election. The board presented some concerns with that such as people not having enough time to run, or the possibility that someone is discouraged because of the open pool. Board member Brad Ingram pointed out that this is the first year that the board has come into this election problem.  Young then asked if there was the possibility of them just rezoning certain areas in order to make the numbers more even. Spillman and Alexander were in agreement that they were unsure, but would look further into it. The board agreed that they would like to find out more information and discuss the issue further at the August 24 board meeting. 

The board also: 

* Approved the amended 2020-2021 calendar, moving the first day of school to students to August 24. 

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

* Approved the hiring of Drew Sterkel in the position of TCHS PE/Health/Driver’s Ed teacher and high school girl’s head track coach.

* Approved the hiring of Bart Brewer as junior high assistant basketball coach. 

* Approved the hiring of Nolan Woller as junior high assistant basketball coach.

* Adjourned at 7:55 p.m. until the August 24 board meeting.

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