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Jackson R-2 sees minimal COVID-19 cases

Jackson R-2 School District Superintendent Dr. John Link said COVID-19 has been “an every hour conversation” since the school has opened this fall.

Link said at the Sept. 10 School Board meeting that the District currently has five students who are positive for COVID-19, with another 140 that the District is monitoring and keeping home. In addition, the District had two staff members who have active cases, with another 15 being monitored.

Students and staff members being monitored were home because they were in close contact with someone who tested positive, had COVID-19 symptoms or someone in their household had symptoms.

Link said the District will call parents if their student was in close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19. If the student wasn’t in close contact but may have still been exposed to someone who tested positive, a letter will be sent.

 “If your kid was just in a classroom with a kid that tested positive but was not in close contact, you will get a letter stating that,” Link said. Link said that as soon as the District receives word of a positive case, District administrators go through their class schedule, lunch period and bus route to find close contacts.

Link said that although the number of positive cases has been minimal at the school, the only reason they have been able to stay open is because of the use of face masks and social distancing policies.

“We had one student who was a kindergarten student,” Link said. “If we hadn’t been social distancing and following our plan, we would have probably had to quarantine the entire class.”

He added that the use of masks have kept people from having to quarantine, and are the only tool the District has to stop a potential shutdown. “If we can minimize the number of students that quarantine, then we can keep the doors open,” Link said.

In other action:

• Link shared enrollment numbers with the Board, stating that the District is currently growing faster than expected. As of the Board meeting, the District has grown about 173 students compared to last year’s numbers.

“This time last year, we had 5,182 students K-12,” Link said. “This year we have 5,355 students K-12.” He added that if you add the early childhood program, the District currently has more than 5,600 students.

Link said the growing enrollment is higher than the demographic study the District received in 2019 predicted. The study gave the District projected enrollment numbers for low growth, medium growth and high growth.

The current District-wide enrollment is higher than the “high growth” projection. In addition, Link said enrollment exceeded the high projection at six of the District’s schools – East, North, Orchard, West Lane, the middle school and the high school.

“We continue to grow at a faster clip than what they assumed,” Link said. Conversely, Link said that enrollment at Gordonville and Millersville has “really dropped off hard this year and we’ll see if we get those back.”

• The Board approved evaluation reviews for the District’s homeless program and the District’s migrant program.

The District has had 105 students identified as homeless in the past two school years. As of Sept. 10, the District has identified 37 students as homeless this school year.

The District classifies students as homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residents – including living in cars, living in hotels, living in emergency shelters and sharing the housing of other people due to loss of housing or economic hardship.

Students would be identified as migratory if they, or their parent or guardian, were a migratory agricultural worker or migratory fisher. The District does not have any students identified as migrant.

As part of the programs, the District ensures the enrollment and education of children who fall within the definition of homeless or migratory.

Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell said the District’s social workers help verify whether students qualify as homeless or migratory. She added that identification of homeless students has gotten better in the past decade, as the District has streamlined enrollment to the District office.

• The Board approved changes to 10 District policies, due to recommendations by the Missouri School Boards’ Association and changes to state laws.

A clarification, made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, was that the School Board will make the final decision to end the school year early or close the school for longer than a week. The superintendent has the authority to enact daily closures up to a week long.

The District revised its policies on searches and interviews of students. The policies allow the District to search student’s property due to reasonable suspicion. The District can also use drug-detection dogs on District property and can require students to participate in drug or alcohol tests. The policies also state that law enforcement officers, with some exceptions, cannot interview students on campus or remove students from school for off-campus crimes.

The Board adopted a new policy on setting tuition for District programs. The new policy covers how the District will set tuition for nonresident students who are allowed by law to attend school at the District or take part in District programs. The policy also covers how tuition will be set for residents “who are not otherwise entitled to free education,” including early childhood programs.

Another new policy was put in place to cover employee walkouts, strikes and other disruptive actions. The new policy prohibits any “practice that disrupts the school environment or interferes with District operations.”

The policy on immunization of students was modified. Two changes to the policy are that parents and guardians of K-12 students receive information about immunizations that includes information about influenza vaccines and that students in preschool can exercise a medical or religious exception to immunization like K-12 students.

A change in the professional staff compensation policy puts more responsibility on the employee to notify the District if they are underpaid or overpaid within 30 days.

The specific value of gifts that Board members and staff members can accept from vendors who do business with the District, previously set at $100, was taken out of the conflict of interest policies. The policies now state that the School Board must establish that amount.

• The junior high school construction is going well, according to Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder.

Kinder said the project is on pace to stay on budget and on schedule. The Brockmiller Construction project includes expanding the school to add a new library/media center, as well as a new band classroom. Kinder said that expansion is expected to be “open by Christmas.”

Link added that the construction should be able to move to interior work on the expansion before the weather changes. “They’ve had 17 weather days since March, and that’s phenomenal,” Link said.

Work at the junior high will continue after the expansion opens to renovate the existing band and library. Those changes, which will result in an expanded choir room, new special education classrooms, new art classrooms and expanded cafeteria, are expected to be completed next summer.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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