Facing an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Community Unit School District 7 students will begin the 2020-21 school as they ended the past school year—with remote learning in lieu of classroom attendance. Newly hired Supt. Shane Owsley announced the measure during a special meeting of the Board of Education on Monday night in the Gillespie Middle School Cafeteria.
No formal action was required on the part of board members.
Owsley said the administration worked “hand-in-hand” with representatives of the teachers union to plan for opening the school year with remote learning. The district opted to forego in-person instruction for the start of the school year “for the safety of our students.”
“We realize it doesn’t provide the same level of instruction as in-person instruction but it is the safest for our students,” he said. “We will obviously re-evaluate this as time goes on.”
Additionally, Owsley said all district sports programs “will be suspended until further notice.”
In a related matter, the board placed on first reading a draft policy recommended by the Illinois Association of School Boards which would require all students and staff members to wear face coverings during the pandemic response and setting penalties for persons who do not comply. The final action on adopting the policy is expected next Monday when the board meets for its regular July session.
The board met in executive session for two hours before returning to the cafeteria for a 10-minute open session. During the last hour of the executive session, the board called in building principals, presumably to discuss issues related to the district’s decision to open the school year with remote learning.
During the open session, Jennifer Brown, representing the teachers union, thanked the board and administration for working with the union to “deal with all the things we’re having to deal with right now.”
In other action, the board approved amendments to a recently approved school calendar, moving the first day of classes from Thursday, Aug. 13, to Monday, Aug. 17, to allow two additional days the previous week for teachers to engage in remote learning planning. Owsley told the BenGil Post he hopes to be able to schedule a day before Aug. 17 during which students can come to their respective buildings and pick up computers, textbooks, assignments and other materials to start the new year. The calendar amendment approved by the board also adds Tuesday, Nov. 3, as an official holiday for Election Day.
If and when school officials determine students can safely return to in-classroom attendance, Owsley said the district will be on a four-day schedule with students attending classes Monday and Tuesday, and Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be used as in-service days for teachers to plan and for custodians to sanitize classrooms, school facilities, and buses. Attendance will be staggered with older students attending school in the morning with younger students attending in the afternoon.
On the recommendation of Technology Coordinator Mark Carpani, the board voted unanimously to purchase an additional 80 laptop computers at a cost of $50,487.20 to ensure all students district-wide will have a computer to use at the beginning of the school year. The contract is to be paid over a four-year contract.
Carpani said a recently approved $288,000 initiative to purchase 600 laptop computers and software for student use fell short of providing a computer for all students in the district. He said the district had hoped to use laptops from existing computer labs to fill the gap but found that many of those computers are outdated and unusable.
“We knew we were going to be short,” he said. Of the available computers already owned by the district, he said perhaps 40 or 50 could have been used. As an alternative, he proposed purchasing an additional 80 new laptops before the start of the school year. That number, he said, will not only provide computers for all district students but also provide a cushion to provide computers to new students coming into the district later or replace computers when one is damaged and in need of repair.
Owsley noted that he will participate in a web-based seminar on Thursday regarding the state’s Emergency Education Relief Fund which enable him to determine if money from the fund can be used to cover the cost of the additional computers. The state is making available $30 million in funding to help local schools deal with losses and additional costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That amount, according to Owsley, includes $7.5 million earmarked for equipment acquisition.
On a motion by Jenni Alepra, seconded by Weye Schmidt, the board unanimously voted to rehire a roster of coaches for winter and spring sports. President Mark Hayes said the action was in keeping with negotiations with the union to hire coaches in spite of sports programs being temporarily suspended.
At the high school level, re-appointed coaches include: Casey Sholtis, head basketball coach; Matt Brawner and Dan Edgerton, assistant basketball coaches; Jake Kellebrew, volunteer assistant basketball coach; Kevin Gray, head women’s basketball coach; Christina Blevins, assistant women’s basketball coach; Robin Niemeyer, head women’s soccer coach; Paige Niemeyer, women’s assistant basketball coach; Jeremy Smith, head men’s baseball coach; Tim Wargo, paid assistant baseball coach; Adam Tallman and Dan Smith, volunteer assistant baseball coaches; Michelle Smith, head women’s softball coach; Jim Matesa and Beth Fields, volunteer assistant softball coaches; Mike Bertagnolli, head men’s track and field coach; Jack Burns, head women’s track and field coach; and Jerrod Herron, assistant track and field coach.
For the middle school, the board appointed: Tim Wargo, seventh-grade boys’ basketball coach; Stuart Ringer, eighth-grade boys’ basketball coach; Celia Jubelt, eighth-grade girls’ volleyball coach; Jill Strole, boys’ track; Nicole Brawner, girls’ track; Kyle Lamore, middle school scholar bowl; and Victoria Spencer, middle school cheer coach.
In other personnel action, the board accepted the resignation of Vanessa Barrett as middle school seventh-grade volleyball coach and high school assistant volleyball coach and posted both positions as vacant.
On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Becky Hatlee, the board voted to name the Kriha Boucek law firm as a legal representative for the school district. With offices in Edwardsville and Oak Brook, Kriha Boucek specializes in representing school boards and school districts. Owsley said one reason for adding the firm to the district’s list of legal representatives was that an attorney previously used by the district during collective bargaining negotiations was hired by the firm.