Rockridge responds to COVID-19 pandemic issues

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Cathy Decker/Correspondent

EDGINGTON -- A more than hour long discussion about the upcoming school year was held at Monday night’s July 14 Rockridge Board of Education meeting. Concepts such as full-time in-school student return versus a hybrid school session were the main topics.

School is set to begin on Aug. 17.

The board also tackled the tuition waiver question for children of teachers and full-time staff (at least 30 hours per week) who do not live in the school district. Perry Miller said the average cost per pupil each year runs at around $9,000. Two months ago the board discussed that up to 20 students could be entering the school district on a waived tuition. The board took no action. “Mercer County, Sherrard and Orion all waive tuition costs,” said Miller.

.   The pandemic response is being based on a 64-page document prepared by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Superintendent Perry Miller said there have been changes to what can occur in the schools, including changing the requirement for all in schools (both staff and students) having to wear a face mask or face shield. What is now only accepted is a face mask. Students will also need to have daily temperature checks and COVID screening for symptoms.

“It’s going to change,” said Miller in reference to the requirements for school return. One thing that has changed is the requirement that within a classroom a six-foot distance must be maintained between students. This has changed to “observing social distancing as best you can.”

Parents will be given two option -- a face to face model, or a remote learning model. “Parents will need to make a decision,” said Miller. He noted that the district’s first quarter has the possibility of only being on-line. That quarter ends on Oct. 16.

Miller said instructions from the Illinois State Board of Education on a “remote learning model has not been released’ noting “It won’t be a self-paced model.”

Board members learned that a five-day model through September would involve a shortened school day with students being dismissed an hour earlier than normal. “Attendance is what we’re worried about,” said Miller. “There are all kinds of things to work out.”

Discussion included using the Illinois City campus more, since that location had more free rooms for more students.

The remote learning model involves students having in-school learning for four days per week, with one day of remote learning. Miller said the district spent $190,000 to purchase 625 Chrome books for elementary and secondary students. He suggested while students are in school it may be teachers who are moving between classrooms, rather than students. He noted that every student kindergarten - 5th grade has a chrome book.

“There are some that predict we will never reopen,” said Miller. “That’s not my opinion,” he added.

One immediate change is not allowing visitors into the school. “We’re not going to allow people in,” said Miller.

Guidance on returning to school has been pretty clear according to Miller. “They want students back in the classroom.”

The district is also looking at preparing a hybrid model for students in grades 7 - 12 “for older students who are taking care of their younger siblings,” Miller said.

A full school day is measured as five hours of instruction per day. “Kindergarten requirements are different with a half-day class equal to two hours,” Miller said.

Prekindergarten learning involves class size of 15 students per classroom. “We’re getting ready for end of July and early August screening,” Miller said. Prekindergarten classes have been held at the Taylor Ridge Elementary for the past two years.

The board also talked about an “exit strategy” in case COVID-19 outbreak. “It’s happening. We know it’s going to happen,” said Miller. Concepts such as “contact tracing” would need to be implemented. “Contact tracing guidelines indicate the individual’s identity is not disclosed,” Miller added.

Other tactics the district is looking at are installing water filling stations for students to fill their own water bottles and erecting tents for students to shelter out of the weather. “When going outside students will need to maintain a six-foot distance from each other in order to not have to wear a face mask,” Miller said.

The board approved calendar changes of calling Nov. 3 a no attendance day because of the national election.

A special board meeting was set for Monday July 27 to finalize a school reopening plan. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The board’s August regular meeting has been changed to Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m.

The board also will be meeting to interview individuals for an open board seat due to Matt Frieden’s resignation (he moved out of the district. Applications will be accepted until July 31. Any resident not living in Andalusia Township is eligible to apply. The board will interview up to three candidates on Aug. 4.

The  board also approved a tentative budget for the upcoming school year which will be on display in the unit office for the next 30 days. Final budget approval is set for the September meeting.

In other business the board

Accept the resignation of Morgan Gosney (Paraprofessional) effective June 30, 2020 and approved Motion to hire Amy Degelman as a PE Teacher for the 2020-2021 school year, pending completion of all requirements and half time 8th grade boys’ basketball coaches Josh Wheatley and Pete Cunico at half stipend for each for the 2020-2021 school year.