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Learning at home or in a classroom

By Staff | Jun 14, 2020

The Blue Earth Area School Board had many items on their agenda when they met on Monday, June 8. It is the time of year when many annual resolutions are passed as the district prepares to begin their next fiscal year on July 1.

COVID-19 remains at the forefront of discussions as the current school year draws to a close and as the district begins preparing for the next school year.

Superintendent Mandy Fletcher talked about some of the protocols being discussed for the upcoming school year.

“This has taken up a lot of time among certain employees in the district as we study mandates and requirements which we could have to meet,” Fletcher commented.

There are three possible scenarios being discussed for when school resumes this fall.

“Option one is for the students to return to the school buildings following the Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines,” Fletcher explained. “That would be as close to normal as we could expect at this time.”

Fletcher told the board another possibility would be a hybrid option where kids would be in the classroom some days and distance learn other days.

“The third option would be total distance learning with no students returning to the school buildings,” Fletcher stated. “We are planning for all three scenarios. We hope to know by July 27 which way we will go.”

Fletcher also gave an update on the most recent legislative session.

“The legislature was able to get an education finance COVID-19 bill passed,” Fletcher said. “However, one of the things which was absent in the bill was a provision for hourly staff and contracted employees being paid for their hours scheduled but not worked due to COVID-19. I would expect the issue will come up again in a special session.”

Another concern raised by Fletcher was many legislators seem to have the perception that schools were fully funded through the COVID-19 situation and that districts have substantial fund balances to absorb the cost of some of the things which are being required.

“So, I encourage you to reach out to your legislators and let them know we are far from being whole,” Fletcher commented. “We do not even know what the full impact will be as we go through this process.”

There was some good news to report.

The school will begin opening some things up on June 15 after the latest announcement from Governor Walz which loosened restrictions on some activities.

“There will be a limitation of nine students to one coach or advisor ratio for most of the activities,” Fletcher explained. “Except for the weight room. Because of the size of the weight room the limit will be six participants to one coach.”

Each participant will be required to check in daily and if they have a cough or other symptoms of being sick, they will be sent home.

“The goal is to keep kids in the same pod,” Fletcher said. “We want them to be with the same group of kids.”

The board also considered raising fees for participating in extracurricular activities for the upcoming school year.

“When we compare ourselves to other districts we are typically lower in what we charge to participate in activities,” Fletcher remarked. “So we have talked about raising our fees to get more in line with other South Central Conference schools. However, because of the coronavirus, some schools are freezing their activities’ fee rate or even reducing it.”

Prior to COVID-19, there had been a recommendation to increase some fees by as much as $30, according to Fletcher.

“My feeling is if there is an advisor or coach, there should be a fee,” board chair Susan Benz suggested. “There may be some exceptions to doing that. I am also sensitive to the economy and how some families could have a hard time paying the fees.”

Board members expressed that families having trouble paying the fees should reach out to the school for help.

It was decided to have Fletcher and activities director Rob Norman go through the list of activities and come up with a suggested fee structure.

The board also passed a motion to address wages for coaches affected by the cancellation of spring sports.

Varsity coaches will receive 50 percent of their normal pay and assistant and middle school coaches will be paid 33 and one third percent of the pay they would have otherwise received.

In other business the board:

Approved a staff sharing agreement with Southern Plains Education Cooperative.

Set the board meeting dates for 2020-21. The board will meet the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. except the meeting for October, which will be held on Oct. 5.

Voted to accept a $5,000 donation from Bevcomm.

Approved the contract of Kelly Bleess as a Special Education teacher and Jennifer Berkner as the Director of Technology.

Accepted the resignation of Gwen Armon as district secretary.

Approved a two-year School Resource Officer Agreement with Faribault County.

Scheduled a work session for Thursday, June 18 at 5 p.m. followed immediately by a special School Board meeting.