(Posted Aug. 4, 2020)
Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Jonathan Alder Local Schools has a new start date for the 2020-21 school year and a plan for reopening amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a special meeting on Aug. 4, the school board unanimously approved a plan that changes the first day of school for students from Aug. 19 to Aug. 24. District staffers are using the extra time to prepare for a new look to school operations.
Superintendent Gary Chapman said the district anticipates opening at 50 percent capacity, meaning that half of the student population will attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays; the other half will attend school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. All students will learn online from home on Wednesdays.
“We’re breaking it up by alphabet,” Chapman said about the 50 percent setup.
Students with last names beginning with A through K will attend school at the start of the week. The others will attend school at the end of the week. Families will have the option to appeal their child’s assigned days. For instance, some families have children with different last names living in the same household. It is recommended that students from the same household to go to school on the same days, Chapman said.
Building principals aim to release their specific building plans, including logistics, protocols and safety measures, to parents by Aug. 7.
As an alternative to having their children attend school in-person, families can choose to have their children learn completely online through the Jonathan Alder Digital Academy (JADA). Those who want to do so must make their choice known by Aug. 7. As of the Aug. 4 school board meeting, 90 students had signed up for JADA, representing 4.6 percent of the school district’s student population.
Chapman emphasized that the reopening plan is subject to change. District leaders will consider the following factors when making decisions: state alert levels regarding COVID-19, Madison County Public Health guidelines, student and teacher absentee rates, and local community spread of the virus. He noted that the district is not tying its backup plans to certain state alert levels, in part because the district serves students in three different counties–Madison, Union and Franklin–each of which could have a different alert status in any given week.
As for other logistics, all student meals will be prepackaged, students will have assigned seats on buses, buses will be sanitized twice a day, and all rooms in all buildings will be cleaned multiple times a day and sanitized nightly.
The school board approved a new job description for school health aides and a plan that will put two such aides at each school building–one to man the buliding’s COVID-19 clinic and one to man a separate clinic for students with other health issues.
District leaders also are working on a plan to recruit more substitute teachers. Dr. Misty Swanger, assistant superintendent, said that Jonathan Alder has suffered a shortage of substitute teachers over the last couple of years, as have other districts. She said the problem could worsen if anyone in the sub pool contracts the virus or has contact with someone who has and has to quarantine.
To build up the sub pool, the district is working on an aggressive and creative recruitment plan, Swanger said. They plan to advertise the need far and wide and reach out to retired teachers and parents with degrees. Swanger noted that substitute teachers do not need a teaching license; they only need a bachelor’s degree.
“I think you will be surprised by how many people in the community–who aren’t doing anything else–will say, ‘If you need me,’” said Shannon Foust board member.
The district also is implementing a new position of full-time substitute, with one slot available per building. Because classroom sizes will be smaller this year, the district is eliminating some classroom aide positions and repurposing them into full-time substitute positions.
The daily pay rate for substitutes is $105 for the first 15 days, $125 after 15 days, and $219 starting at day 60. A substitute who works a full semester will earn $13,000. Swanger compared that to the $11,000 a classroom aide would earn. While the full-time sub plan will cost the district more money, Swanger said it should help with the substitute shortage.
The school board’s regular monthly meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10, will be livestreamed on the district’s Facebook page.