Learning from the First Month - 8/27/21

It’s the end of August; can you believe it?! Let me begin by thanking you for what you have done for our students and our community during this first month of school. Through it all, you have witnessed COVID-19 numbers increasing in the community and nation; you have read and seen all that is going on in the world through the news and you have you talked with friends about what is happening in schools. You know things have been challenging in so many ways, and yet, we have been able to make it through this first month. So, thank you for being you. 

Today, I want to share an update on where I think we are and talk about what we are going to do moving forward. 

I believe the first month of school has been a successful one for us. I am very pleased with the universal screening that has occurred. Thank you for helping our students go through this process and helping them to see where they are academically. After a year and half of COVID-affected schooling, it is time our students recognize there is a lot of work to be done. I believe they will see the need, listen to you, and this year can be one of best years we can have for student learning. That should be our goal – to help students see where they are, set goals for their improvement, and be able to move in that direction.  

I also think this month has been successful because of how we have onboarded our new employees in the district, shared with them how we do things, and continued our Victory in Progress. As I visited schools, I am very pleased to have seen students wearing masks, socially distancing, and engaging in rigorous learning. You are doing a fantastic job facilitating. I am pleased with the way we are implementing the lessons learned from the past year and half as we are moving forward. Don’t get me wrong – there is still more work to do. There is always room for improvement, but we are getting there, and I want to congratulate you on a great first month of school. 

As far as COVID-19, I continue to receive information from the North Central Health District, as well as other resources. Our numbers have continued to climb and they, like those throughout the rest of the state and the country, are rising very quickly. That said, we are not where everyone else is. One of the news stories out now is about the state of Florida, where schools are fighting with their governor about whether they should wear masks to help keep schools open and staff safe. I am thankful we were able to decide early on that we were going to require masks. We had some who did not like that decision, but at the end of the day wearing masks is one of the best things we can do to help keep schools open and staff and students safe. 

I am also very thankful that at last count 68 percent of staff had been vaccinated for COVID-19. If you have not already done so, I encourage you get vaccinated. We will continue to work with our community partners to host more events so you can get vaccinated. Also, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved a vaccine for use without emergency authorization, I am going to change something we have had in place for the last year and half. Since March 2020, if an employee had to take time off because they were either positive for COVID-19 or identified as a close contact, they were allowed to use paid leave entered in the system as COVID Leave. The district did not require employees to use their own sick leave. As we began this school year, I announced we would continue this process through at least September 30, 2021. Now that the FDA has approved a vaccine, it is time to revisit this procedure. Effective October 1, 2021, unvaccinated employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to use their personal sick leave. If an unvaccinated employee is declared a close contact and required to quarantine, they also will have to use their personal sick leave. There will be some exceptions for employees who have not been vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. Between now and September 30, if you fall into that category, I am asking you to work with Human Resources so we can understand your situation and help you if you are a close contact and must quarantine. Additionally, this fall we are going to begin testing unvaccinated employees for COVID-19 once a week. I believe our partnerships at the local and state level will allow us to do this in a convenient, efficient way, and I see this as another strategy we are putting in place to help keep schools safe. (*Update for clarification: Vaccinated employees who test positive for COVID-19 will still be allowed to use paid leave entered in the system as COVID Leave after September 30.)

I also want to talk a little about where we are now. As our COVID-19 numbers have increased, we have begun closing some classrooms and schools. This is because we have continued to monitor the situation and looked at numbers of positives and close contacts at the classroom level, grade level or school level, and made decisions we believe are in the best interest of our students and staff. I have said before and I will say it again: My goal is that we ensure we are not increasing the spread of COVID-19 in schools. We can’t control what happens in the community, but we do have some control over what happens in our schools, and because of the numbers we have seen this week we are acting. I hope this gives you some relief to know we are looking at the numbers, and when it is warranted, we will take action to go virtual if that is what we deem is in the best interest of our faculty, students, and school district. 

Just as we are closing some schools or classrooms, other school systems are doing the same. The question then becomes for some employees, what happens if my child’s school closes for COVID-19? Effective immediately, I am authorizing our employees to bring their children to work with them, just as we did last year, if their child’s school or daycare closes. Principals and directors have the defined autonomy to implement this practice as they see best in their workplace. I know this will be difficult, but because the closures are, so far, temporary, I believe this is the best approach for us now.  

It is my hope you see we are being as cautious as we can be with COVID-19. I hope you see this as our effort to find the proper balance between closing schools because of safety and COVID-19 concerns and keeping schools open because of the need for students to have in-person learning. We learn more each day as we look at the data, and we will continue to do just that. I thank those of you who have shared your concerns with me in Let’s Talk and through emails.  

Just know we are trying to be more strategic this year. The schools and classes we are sending home because of COVID-19 will be out for about two weeks and then they will return to in-person learning. While these students are home, we will continue to monitor the situation. 

I hope this update has given you more confidence in the work we are attempting to do. Thank you very much for all you do and enjoy your Labor Day holiday at the end of next week. 

VIP continues because of you, 

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