The Hiawatha School Board met for its regular October meeting Monday night, via Zoom, and heard from district and local health officials about possible gating criteria updates pertaining to COVID-19 exposure and cases.
Gating criteria has been determined by the state, but local health and school officials feel what has been established does not necessarily meet the needs of a small rural district. Gating criteria essentially places all variables into a chart — such as the number of teachers who could be out with COVID, the number quarantined, teachers available, the number of students affected. If all points on the chart meet in a yellow box (for example) then that would give the district clear direction on whether to transition to hybrid or if all points meet on a red box (another example) then that would give direction to transition to remote learning.
However, health officials warned, there are lots of variables that could lead to some gray areas — staff absenteeism a big one. Providers from the Hiawatha Community Hospital, along with district nurses and administrators have been working on developing this criteria after a recent transition to remote learning occurred district wide, then downsized to include just the Elementary due to nearly 100 people in quarantine and 7 positive cases there. Challenges included finding staff to cover all classrooms, which the district worked on finding solutions to for a couple days before being able reopen the middle and high schools.
In other COVID updates, district nurses informed the board that as of Monday, there were 9 kids out at elementary due to COVID exposure, nine out at the middle with one confirmed positive and four on quarantine and four out at the high school. Overall in the district, five staff members were out. Nurse Erin Wenger told board members that most were due to outside exposure and based on internal documentation, health officials feel there has only been one possibility of a teacher to teacher exposure since school started.
Board members also heard information on adjusting quarantine guidelines that were set by the state. HCH provider Jodi Twombly said that the likelihood of going back to remote learning based on the current guidelines was very high. However, any changes to these guidelines would have to be approved by county health officials and could lead to some liability if a staff member or student were to become very ill, or a death would occur.
Superintendent Lonnie Moser told the board that Miami County had adjusted their quarantine guidelines, as approved by their county health department. He said their protocol was modified to include a “close contact” to a positive COVID-19 person, but there was not a need to quarantine if wearing a mask. Current protocol calls for quarantining if within 6 feet of a person who tests positive for 10 minutes or more — with or without a mask.
Moser said he feels by modifying the quarantine protocol, this could greatly help the district keep “on-site” mode for as long as possible. However, more review would be needed and then approval from the county health department.
Twombly said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has not wavered on the current protocol.
Board members agreed them most important goal was to keep all schools on-site for better learning and it was the general consensus to have health and district officials continue to work on modifying gating criteria and quarantine protocol and return to the next board meeting with information.
In other business:
Following an Executive Session, the board voted to move to approve specific custodian raises as presented and approved extended contracts for new staff. The board also approved a 3.2 percent raise for all classified staff.
Moser reported that teacher negotiations are ongoing. He said there is a tentative agreement in place and the parties will meet soon to create the final copy of the master agreement. It will then be signed at a later date.
District Maintenance Director Chris Morey updated the board on light poles at the high school parking lot. The old ones were removed in anticipation of a new parking lot this fall, but when that fell through there became a need to replace them for this year. Morey said he purchased light poles and contacted Evergy, who can complete the project by Nov. 1.
Morey also discussed options for purchasing a new tractor for snow removal and other duties. He said the current tractor is old and not able to fully complete all the tasks needed but asked for input from board members on what they thought was a suitable replacement as he told them he didn’t know much about tractors. He also discussed snow removal and possibly placing Aller LLC on contract to take care of the parking lots for the winter while maintenance took care of sidewalks, other out of the way areas and the playground at the elementary. No decision was made, however board members discussed possibly looking at a smaller tractor or a skid-loader to save money. They asked Morey to research the matter further and return with more information to the next board meeting.
Moser reviewed possible alterations to the Return to Learn Plan for the district as now that students have been in school 6 weeks there may be a need for tweaks. There was discussion of teacher burn-out and parental concern about remote students being overwhelmed with extensive work and being on a computer for 8 hours. Board member Andrea Groth said she was also questioned by a parent on how students can get extra help after school. She was advised to tell the parent to contact the building principal.
Moser also said the administrators had the right to return a remote student back to on-site learning if they aren’t successful and are truant at the remote learning process.
The board approved the Consent Agenda, which included accepting the resignations of Ethan Pierce as HHS girls assistant basketball coach and HMS assistant track coach and Barb Stueve as HES administrative assistant. The board also approved to hire Chris Diller as HMS assistant football coach and the technology disposal list. This list included old Learn Pads, which had been replaced with IPads. It was discussed to revisit disposing of them to see if they could be of some use elsewhere, however IT Director Tim Larkin told the board members that they were more than 10 years old and many didn’t even turn on. He said it would take hours and hours to go through all of them and work out the glitches.
The board has another special meeting at 7 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 26, which will be held via Zoom and aired over the school’s YouTube Channel.