THOMASBORO — Thomasboro Grade School students will start school about two weeks later than planned to give the district time to make COVID-19 related adjustments, but registration dates remain the same.
“This gives us just a little more time,” Superintendent Bonnie McArthur told the board at the June 23 regular meeting. “And it gives parents time to make the decision about online or in-person learning, then time to change their minds before school starts.”
Students will return Aug. 10, and teachers the week before. To maintain the same ending date for the school year, the October and March breaks were shortened. The recently created Nov. 3 Election Day state holiday was also added to the calendar. The district operates on a balanced calendar and typically starts school in July. Other area schools start around Aug. 17.
Rules for the transition back to in-person learning were issued jointly by the state board of education and the state department of public health the day of the meeting. The rules address use of personal protective equipment, including masks, social distancing, a maximum gathering in one space of 50, symptom screening and facility disinfection and cleaning.
To accommodate social distancing within a classroom, class size must be reduced. The district has opted to do that by giving parents the choice of an all-remote instruction plan or a plan that blends remote and in-person instruction. The remote plan provides additional protection for students who are medically vulnerable.
The blended learning plan looks different depending on grade level. As of the meeting, the plan was as follows. All students receive remote instruction on Fridays. Kindergartners are in school for a half day Monday through Thursday, and the lower grades are in school for the full day Monday through Thursday. Each of the upper classes will be divided into A and B groups, with A and B attendance days alternating.
McArthur introduced the idea that all classes go to remote instruction during the January-March period when a COVID-19 surge might occur, as some universities are considering. She said she had also approached the idea with the teachers union.
“It’s high peak season for flu and COVID and snow days,” McArthur said. “One COVID-positive case could shut down the school, and we would have to go to online learning anyway.”
Teacher Julie Quinn said, “As an educator, if I know that we hit a spike and we are going (remote), I might plan my year a little differently. Hopefully we would be in class the first quarter and a good part of the second quarter. I might get certain things out of the way that might be more difficult (remotely).”
The idea didn’t get much reaction from the board, but Board President William Wilken noted that university students tend to travel farther over holiday breaks than Thomasboro students are likely to do.
“I’d like to have them in school as much as we could,” he said.
In addition to approving half-day kindergarten and the amended school year calendar, the board approved 2020-2021 board meeting dates, contracts with food vendors Fox River Foods and Kohls, minor language amendments to 19 board policies, and teacher Rebecca Franklin’s intent to retire in three years.
The board also approved the amended 2019-2020 budget. Due to an unexpected property tax receipt, the overall deficit was narrowed from about $180,000 to $26,000, McArthur said. A budget amendment hearing was held prior to the meeting.
“I want to caution you about the ed fund,” McArthur said. “It’s the greatest it’s looked in a long time, but we are consistently running a deficit.”