RANTOUL  — The Rantoul City Schools board last week approved a metric by which a school would be shut down in the event a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19.

Board members said such planning is necessary. That was evident at the nearby Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district, where Superintendent Cliff McClure said a fourth-grade had tested positive for COVID last week.

The metric approved by the RCS board mandates that if a teacher tests positive, the A and B day classes that he/she teaches must take their lessons remotely for 14 days. The same will be followed if at least two students test positive in one classroom. Also, if three students from at least two different grade levels in a building get COVID, the whole building will learn remotely for 14 days.

The measure passed 4-2 with Saundra Uhlott and Joan Fitzgarrald voting against.

The BlendEd Academy arrangement splits students into A Day and B Day groups. Each student attends two days of classes for four hours in the morning. A Day students attend Tuesdays and Thursdays, while B Day students are in class Wednesdays and Fridays. All students are required to have at least five hours of instruction a day, so they will do additional hour of work at home in the afternoon in a variety of subjects ranging from PE to music to art online as well as some additional core work.

Enrollment drops

Superintendent Michelle Ramage said enrollment declined by 163 students from last year at this time. As of Aug. 19, there were 1,656 children, including pre-kindergarten students, enrolled at RCS.

She said district-wide, 57 percent of students are enrolled in the BlendEd Academy, while 43 percent are enrolled in Learn Academy (all remote).

“That percentage varies greatly between building to building,” Ramage said.

Pleasant Acres Elementary, for example, has 58 percent of its students enrolled in BlendEd learning, while at Eastlawn Elementary, it’s only 31 percent.

Asked if some of the 163 students have “unenrolled,” Ramage said some of them probably have.

RCS held its first meal distribution of the new school year last Monday (meals are distributed for the entire week that day), and 2,480 meals were distributed, which is “much lower” than the typical 10,000 meals a week the district was distributing in the spring.

Ramage said she doesn’t know the reason for the drop but said perhaps it’s because the district is now required to check off the student’s name, whereas before anyone could come in and get meals.

“In the spring you could pull up; you didn’t even have to provide a name or live in town,” Ramage said, adding the number of meals was expected to increase this past Monday.

Because of the lower numbers, the distribution window was shortened by an hour to 4 to 6 p.m. Previously it had been 3 to 6 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Frerichs updated the board on two grant applications.

RCS applied for a $104,970 competitive federal digital equity grant through the CARES Act.

“The purpose was to fill the digital divide for devices and hot spots for students,” Frerichs said.

RCS would use the money for teletherapy software, Chromebooks, hot spots and Cisco web conferencing units.

The district will also apply for an $8,600 federal professional learning grant designed to provide educators and families with professional development around “digital citizenship and devices.”

If received, Rantoul’s St. Malachy school would also receive a portion of funds.

The board voted to approve a $25,800 contract with Presence to provide interactive services with school psychologists and speech pathologists — allowing those personnel to perform the same services they have provided in person in the past.

The contract includes professional development to show school psychologists and speech pathologists how they can perform the services virtually. It also includes a component in which parents will be shown how to use the service.

Allison Didier, director of special education, said more than 200 RCS students receive speech services.

“Last year between our school psychologist and our speech pathologist, they did 167 evaluations of students,” Ramage said. “We will still be obligated to do this, this school year.”

The board voted to approve a $69,609 contract with Rantoul Police Department for school resource officer services. That amount covers 37 weeks of service.

The board was introduced to new Broadmeadow Elementary Principal Amy Blomberg.  Blomberg was hired and began her job in July, but due to limited in-person board meeting attendance was not able to meet the board in person.

Blomberg previously served as assistant principal at Garden Hope Academy in Champaign. She had also served as principal for that school’s summer program since 2017.

The board learned of three Freedom of Information Act requests — two by Jack Anderson and one by Debbra Sweat. One by Anderson was for student awards and honors and cost the district $1,558, including $871 in employee cost and $687 in attorney cost. A second Anderson FOIA request, also for student awards and honors, cost $1,312, including $749 for employee cost and $562 attorney cost. The Sweat FOIA question regarding reopening cost $23, all of which was employee cost.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com