Board discusses reopening plan, snow days and logistical changes

Superintendent Frank Harwood addressed the board with new information on the Coming Back Together plan and other changes across the district

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By Ben Wieland

The school board meets to discuss COVID-19 gating criteria.

The board touched on a myriad of issues including new information from the Coming Back Together learning plan, contingency plans for snow days and an audit of the district’s spending at their meeting Monday, Dec. 7.

Superintendent Frank Harwood spent the bulk of the meeting discussing data on the Coming Back Together plan, though the learning model committee made no new recommendations. Harwood elaborated on staffing concerns — he noted that, without secondary teachers volunteering to sub for each other’s classes, 25 percent of teacher vacancies would have gone unfilled. 

He also reaffirmed the ultimate importance of gating criteria data to the district’s learning model decisions. 

“The recommendation to shift to [remote learning for secondary students] was not made because of staffing,” Harwood said. “We are in the orange category because the metrics in the gating criteria call for it.” 

Snow days were also an urgent point of discussion at the meeting, as the potential for severe winter weather increases. 

Harwood informed the board that plans for school lunches on snow days were being made, and mentioned that information on that plan would be sent out to families in the near future. He added that snow days this year will likely become remote learning days for students, but if the district is caught off guard there is still potential for a traditional snow day. 

“The secondary schools can simply continue with their remote learning schedule.” Harwood said. “If we can predict a snow day, we will have a remote learning day. If it’s sudden or unpredictable, we’ll have a regular snow day.”

He also made the board aware of a variety of potential changes to COVID-19 guidelines by other governing bodies: the CDC shortened the recommended quarantine period for symptom-free individuals from 14 to 10 days, KSHSAA will vote on an amendment tomorrow to permit two spectators per athlete at winter sports, and the Kansas Board of Education will vote on amendments to the gating criteria this week that would allow elementary students to remain in person while in the red zone. 

Financial expert Jim Long also spoke to the board, explaining the results of an audit of the district’s fiscal year. 

“There were no problems. All the numbers we looked at were what we expected to see,” Long said.

At the beginning of the meeting, three Mill Valley staff members were recognized in a video message from principal Gail Holder for outstanding work: ELL aide Michelle Hess, science teacher Donna Riss, and broadcast teacher Dorothy Swafford. 

Board president Danielle Heikes declared a special meeting set for Monday, Dec. 21. The agenda is not finalized, but the meeting is intended to discuss the committee’s next recommendation on learning models. The board will also consider what Harwood called a “shift to autopilot” on learning model decisions; the change would mean decisions would be made based entirely on the gating criteria data and committee recommendations. 

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 11.

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