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District to receive $900,000 in American Rescue Plan funds
North Crawford
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - Superintendent Brandon Munson informed members of the North Crawford School Board that the district expects to receive about $900,000 more in COVID relief funding.  This brings the total coming to the district from the three COVID relief bills to a total of about $1.5 million.

These latest of the funds will come to the district as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this month. The funds are part of a program known as ‘ESSER,’ which stands for ‘Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief’ as part of the ‘Education Stabilization Fund.’ This round of funding is referred to as ‘ESSER III.’ 

ESSER I was part of the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill, passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27, 2020. ESSER II was passed by Congress in December of 2020. As a result of ESSER I, the district received $114,079 From ESSER II, the district received $459,514.

“The district has spent most of the funds granted to us in ESSER I,” Munson told the board. “The funds have been spent on technology, additional staffing and the virtual option we offered to families this year.”

Munson said he expects ESSER II funds to be used for increased instructional staffing, updates to district technology, new curriculums, maintenance items for cleaning and sanitizing, and staff development.

Munson said that the additional funds from ESSER II and ESSER III will have to be spent strategically to ensure that the district is meeting the needs of students and staff.

“I just want to make sure that when we make decisions about how to spend the funds, we don’t commit ourselves to ongoing expenses after the money is gone,” board president Mary Kuhn said.

One immediate proposal the board approved for use of the additional funding was for the hiring of an additional reading and math specialist, coach and interventionist.

“Our intervention support services have mainly been focused on our elementary students to date,” Munson said. “We have need in the district to provide interventions for middle school and even high school students, and also to focus on math in addition to reading.”

Kuhn expressed support for the hire to ensure that any learning gaps from the last year are addressed. She asked Munson if he thought that hiring one more individual would be enough.

Munson explained that with the addition of the new position, the district would have three certified individuals on staff – the new person, and Jamie Bearrows and Shelly Biggin, and educational assistant Kim Heister would continue her work with interventions as well. In addition, the board approved hiring another support staff person to work in a role similar to Heister’s.

The superintendent said that between the ESSER II and ESSER III funding, the additional positions could be funded for the next three years.

“I support using the ESSER funding to make sure that our students get caught up in any areas where they may have gaps,” board member Judy Powell said. “Lets use this funding to hit it hard for the next two or three years.”

Another expenditure of the ESSER funds was for the purchase of a new reading curriculum for the middle school. The new curriculum will be a companion to the updated curriculum recently approved for purchase for the elementary school – CKLA.

“The current middle school reading curriculum is one of the oldest in use in the district, purchased in 2006,” middle school English language arts teacher Erika Wilson explained. “Like the current elementary curriculum, it has very low ratings on the EdReports site.”

Elementary Principal Amanda Killeen pointed out that if the curriculum was rolled out in the elementary and middle schools at the same time, this would create efficiencies in teacher professional development. She said that both Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Schwartz had done extensive research resulting in recommending the CKLA curriculum.

Total cost to acquire the curriculum will be $15,890. This includes $540 for three, six-year, teacher licenses, $13,440 for student packages – 35 per year for six years, $1,200 for professional development, and $742 for shipping and handling.

COVID various

Munson told the board that the new COVID relief package would also fund free meals for school age children in the district through September of 2021. He said the district would offer free meals in June for summer school, take the month of July off, and then resume the free meals in August.

School Nurse John Powell reported that Crawford County Public Health had offered a staff vaccination clinic on March 11, at which 27 staff were vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said other staff had chosen to work with the pharmacy partner program to receive the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose vaccines. He said that as of March 22, 75 staff members including coaches and substitute teachers have received at least one dose of vaccine. Of the 85 regular staff, 61 have been vaccinated for a rate of 71.8 percent.

After considerable discussion, the board voted to reopen the track for public use effective immediately. They voted to wait to open the Shed fitness facility and the school building to the public until April 19, when 70 percent of staff will be fully vaccinated.

The board also discussed and voted to change district quarantine policies for staff in accordance with guidance from the CDC. 

The first new policy the board adopted is that if a staff member is fully vaccinated (14 days after receiving either one dose of Johnson & Johnson, or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna), they will no longer be required to quarantine if they come in contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID case.

The second new policy relates to staff who have declined to be vaccinated and are identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed COVID case. These staff will be required to quarantine, and will have the option to be tested after the sixth day of quarantine. If they test negative and are not symptomatic, they may return to work on day ten. The individual will be required to check in with the school nurse daily up to day 14. If they refuse to take a test, then they will be required to quarantine for the full 14 days before returning to work.

The board also voted to eliminate the staff COVID benefit language from their COVID policy effective April 19. This language allowed staff extra personal time off in the event they were required to quarantine so they would not have to potentially use up all of their vacation and personal time off. The federal rule ended at the end of 2020, but the board had voted to extend it in January of 2021.

Regarding protocols for spring sports, the district has adjusted their protocols to be in alignment with the Ridge & Valley conference. As many protocols from fall and winter sports will be kept in place as possible, including pre-screenings of athletes.

Munson said that the main difference will be for face coverings. Athletes on the field of play will be allowed to have their masks off, but must wear masks when they are on the sidelines. Students can have their mask off when performing a track field event, and may remove their masks when they are on the starting line for running events. Track meets will be limited to a maximum of eight teams. All spectators will be encouraged to wear masks unless they can maintain physical distancing with their family unit.

Employment decisions

The board voted to accept the resignations of five district staff. Fifth grade teacher Thomas Seland is relocating out of the district with his family. Middle school math teacher Jessica Jaeger is also relocating out of the district with her family. Elementary school counselor Zoe Ellerbusch has chosen to pursue a career in counseling outside of the school setting. Kindergarten teacher Sue Klema is retiring after 36 years with the district. Third grade teacher Jean Ottaway is retiring after more than 30 years with the district.

In the case of Jean Ottaway, who made her decision to retire late in the school year, the board voted to waive a 45-day waiting period in order to begin recruitment to fill the position sooner. By waiving the waiting period, the board ensured that Ottaway would remain eligible for district retirement benefits.

The board voted to hire Mr. William ‘BJ’ Ludwig as a fifth grade teacher. Ludwig is well-known in the district as he has just completed his student teaching period in Mrs. Beinborn’s class. Ludwig plans to move with his family to the district, and has a background in Spanish language as well.

In other business

In other business, the board:

• heard that ACT examinations were almost complete, Prep ACT Aspire would be administered on April 29, and the Forward Exam is coming up soon

• heard that Munson is seeking volunteers to canvass the spring election on the day after the election, Wednesday, April 7

• voted to make Jen Peterson, occupational therapist, a district employee at 16-20 hours per week plus mileage

• approved a high school course handbook for 2021-22 with few changes, except that an AP Spanish course will be offered

• heard that the Badger Camp and Washington D.C. trip would be cancelled for this school year

• heard that Eighth Grade Promotion will be held on Tuesday, June 1, at 7 p.m. The event will have limited in-person participation, but will be livestreamed

• heard that Prom will be held on May 8 as an outdoor event. Two tents have been rented, and masks will be required. If any student attending tests positive for COVID, then everyone who attends will be required to quarantine

• heard that Scholarship Night will be held on May 24

• heard that Graduation will be held on Saturday, May 29, at 10 a.m, with attendance limited to 250 if outdoor, and 100 if indoor.