BETHLEHEM-WOODBURY — Back in July, it appeared the state was getting the Covid-19 pandemic at least somewhat under control.
As a result, the Region 14 Board of Education voted to approve an October out-of-state trip to the FFA nationals in Indiana for a busload of students.
Now, in October, with the trip just a few weeks away, board members grappled at a meeting on Monday, October 4, with how to revise their approval as the Delta variant has some impact here and other states are seeing high positivity rates, including Indiana.
Nonnewaug High School Principal Pamela Sordi and Director of Agriscience Edward Belinsky were there to ask if the board would instead allow four students who needed to compete in person to possibly fly out to Indiana, leaving behind 31 students who have or will have competed virtually.
An additional four students who graduated, but are part of a team that needs to compete in person, are already planning to fly out or drive on their own.
School staff were worried what would happen if they took the original 35 students by bus and one of them tested positive for Covid while there. The student would have to quarantine and could not return with other students if he or she tested positive.
Who would stay with the student? Would a parent be willing to come out and stay with the student for the quarantine period and/or would it be possible for the student to return home by car with his or her parent?
The cost of staying in quarantine for 10 to 14 days in another state could be high, perhaps as much as $5,000 when the cost of travel, hotel, food and possible lost wages for the parent are added. What happens if a parent cannot afford that?
Would some students be allowed to go, whose parents were willing to pledge they would be responsible for a quarantined student and others not be allowed if a student’s parents could not commit?
Staff spent days debating all of the possible options and issues, Ms. Sordi said. The best possible solution seemed to be to allow the students who needed to compete in person to go while keeping the others behind.
Ms. Sordi said parents could always choose to pull a student out of school and make the trip on their own if they so desired. Although it would not be an “official” trip at that point, students would not be penalized for missing class.
Board member Tikva Rose asked why it was a problem if parents did agree to commit to handle any possible quarantine, but Ms. Sordi countered that it was possible someone would agree now, but back out if the scenario actually occurred. The school had to consider all possibilities, and there was still the question of equity.
After lengthy discussion, the board finally voted to rescind its original approval of the trip and allow the four students who need to compete in person to make the trip.
In other Covid-related news, Acting Superintendent Wayne McAllister announced that 88.4% of Region 14 staff is now fully vaccinated. Another seven individuals are in the process of obtaining their second shot. That would bring the percentage of fully vaccinated workers up over 90%, he said.
The 11.6% not fully vaccinated were being tested weekly.
Finance Director Tina Tanguay gave an update on the district’s use of ESSR funds, the money given to school districts by the federal government in response to loss of learning due to Covid.
Region 14 received $514,929 from the initial distribution of ESSR funds. That money was used to hire an individual to assist students with social emotional learning issues, a board-certified behavior analyst, a math interventionist for grades 6-12 and a literacy interventionist for the high school.
All if these positions will last for two years, the period of the grant, or longer if the district decides it wants to keep this program or person in place and is willing to fund it through the regular budget. The grant also funded an extra teacher for the credit recovery program.
Region 14 also received $229,117 in ESSR2 funds. The district used the money for four part-time interventionists for the elementary school, a math interventionist at the high school and 10 teachers for the regular education summer school program, for both this past summer and next summer.
The district received $20,000 it used to expand its pre-K special education program to offer slots to abled peers. These regular education students serve as behavior models for special education students in the classroom.
Finally, the board named itself, as a whole, to the Personnel Search Committee that will be tasked with the search for the next superintendent.