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August 4, 2020

7/28/2020 3:01:00 PM
Highland Board of Education endorses plan to have all students in school five days a week, approves letter to WIAA to push sports back
The Highland Board of Education covered a lot of COVID-19 changes at their regular board meeting on Wednesday, July 8 via Zoom getting ready for the upcoming school year. The board endorsed the plan presented to bring everyone, 4K-12, back to school five days. Administration thinks that they're in a good position to socially distance everyone and be safe. Additionally, anxiety and depression in kids is increasing substantially due to NOT being in school and around their peers. "Whatever we start with will likely change. We want to do what's best for kids," explained Highland Superintendent Bryce Bird. Students will be required to wear masks coming to and from school and while in the hallways. Recesses and lunches will be spaced out accordingly. Choir, band, art, etc. teachers will be coming to individual classrooms. Lockers will be spaced out, and water fountains will be closed with the exception of the use of the no-touch water bottle feature. Furthermore, kids will be recommended to bring backpacks and carry them around with them to class to limit usage of lockers. There will be no Cardinal Club before and after school. Parents/families who are uncomfortable with sending their students back will be offered a virtual option - this will be much more intensive than last spring's virtual learning. There will be iPads on tripods in every classroom, so the expectation is that the student will be virtually learning at the same time in-person learning is happening. Moreover, teachers will be able to teach from home if sick or having to be quarantined. Right now if a teacher is uncomfortable teaching in-person, the district is unsure how to deal with that.
Principal Tarrell discussed the results of a survey sent out to those in the district asking about their preference for school in the fall. A majority of parents, at all grade levels, wanted students to be back in the building five days a week (about 65 percent) while about 25 percent wanted a blended learning option of both in-person and virtual; only a small percentage wanted only virtual learning. The response to the survey was very good as 163 families responded out of 182 families.
Administration will keep adding to the COVID-19 document and won't be making any hard and fast rules as they fully expect things to change. Principal Tarrell additionally noted that the cleaning staff will be able to get everything cleaned at night before the next day, so there shouldn't be a need for a day off during the week - a special machine for disinfecting has been bought for the maintenance staff. Another question that administration didn't have an answer for was what to do about band/choir as there are so many students in this one section. Board members brainstormed that the large group could be broken into sections or just doing individual lessons. There will be no singing at ANY grade level - elementary, middle, or high school. Classes will be like music appreciation classes. Things are going to have to be taught differently. Lunches will be served as usual with limited numbers in the cafeteria to allow for distancing, and an additional lunch period will be added. Students will not be allowed into the building now until 7:45 a.m.
If there was a confirmed case of COVID-19, the school district would follow the protocol given from Iowa County Health Department. How many people need to be quarantined would depend on tracing guidelines from the County Health department - it could be just one kid or it could be a whole classroom or more. If the whole school were having to be shutdown, the district would just go virtual for however long needed. "Many area schools are doing what we're doing," Tarrell affirmed. School will start Tuesday, Aug. 25 like originally planned. "We've never been in this situation before...we're doing the best we can with what we have today," said Board Member Greg Biba.
In other COVID-19 related decisions, the board approved sending a letter to the WIAA asking the organization to push back fall sports. A recent meeting with all the CESA #3 schools (31 area districts) yielded a decision on how to potentially move forward with sports. "It's the plan the makes the most sense, but the WIAA would have to make some changes," Bird said. For the plan, sports would start with the winter sports around the beginning of 2021 with the scheduled winter sports. Fall sports, in Highland's case football and volleyball, would be played in the spring with spring sports (baseball and softball) happening in the summer. All the county health departments that were at the CESA #3 meeting recommended that schools NOT go forward with fall sports. "How can you have players have direct contact with others from different schools and their own teammates while having them in school only two days a week?" Principal Tarrell questioned. There was also the criticism of being told to socially distance while still allowing direct contact for sports players. The hope is that there might possibly be a vaccine in place by the time winter sports start which would make direct contact a lot safer. Currently, the WIAA is not shutting down fall sports, and if enough teams decide to participate in fall sports, they'll have a tournament; however, the district administration thinks the chances of that are slim due to direct contact in sports. They, and the board members, think that the best chance at getting a full season of a fall sport in is by pushing it back - there's a good chance if fall sports do go ahead that they'll be shut down mid-season like what happened with the state basketball tournament. Another idea brought forth was to just play with the other CESA #3 schools, but again, there are still many unknowns. The board would really like to get kids in school first before dealing with sports, but that decision is ultimately up to the WIAA. Highland Head Football Coach Mike Aide was in favor of moving back football as he wants his team to have a full season, not less than that. If the WIAA doesn't approve moving sports back, football will start as scheduled August 3 with the appropriate precautions in place. "Moving it back isn't a guarantee, but it gives us a better chance," Principal Tarrell stated.
Money left over from 2019-2020's budget will be placed into Fund 46, the long-term capital maintenance fund. There was about $47,000 extra revenue that came in this year with $48,000 to the good for the budget. This means that there was about $96,000 that won't be spent this year; the board approved putting up to $50,000 of this into Fund 46 with the rest going into the fund balance for next year. There may be extra expenses next year related to COVID-19, so the board thought this was a good plan. In two more years, the district can access Fund 46 for long-term maintenance items.
In other business:
• The student handbooks for next year were approved. There were very minimal changes.
• The 2020-21 academic standards were also passed. These were the same as last year.
• The activities handbook was approved with one major change. Athletes will be encouraged to have open and honest communication with their coaches when concerns arise with communication focusing on self-improvement and the entire team. Irrelevant items such as another player's playing time or play calling should not be discussed, and coaches will work tirelessly to keep it positive and make it so that players can be comfortable talking to their coaches. Furthermore, anyone who was ineligible the end of last spring will be eligible until the first grading period - this is due to COVID-19.
• The yearbook fundraiser was passed. Face coverings will be sold for this, and two companies are being looked at for this purpose.
• The first reading of NEOLA-based policy sets (0000 through 9000) were approved.
• Monica Schwartzhoff was approved as the new middle school ELA teacher.
• The meeting minutes from the June 10 and June 24 were approved.
• Principal Tarrell mentioned that there could possibly be a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Friday, July 24 at Tyler Field. This is contingent upon Iowa County Emergency Management's approval to have 100 people outside if cases of COVID-19 drop. The school building would only be open for those needing to use the restroom.
• The first week of August is slated for the start of in-person summer school. This will be a test run to see how things may potentially go in the full school year.
The next Highland Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12 at 6 p.m. at the school. It will be a blended meeting with the public and board members able to participate in-person or virtually.

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