The Jackson R-2 School District will receive antigen COVID-19 tests sometime this week, with Superintendent Dr. John Link saying the test would start shipping anytime during the School Board’s regular monthly meeting on Dec. 8.
The antigen test, sometimes referred to as a rapid test, is less accurate than a PCR-based nasal swab but only takes around 15 minutes to receive results. To make sure the results are as accurate as possible, people will not be tested until after they are symptomatic and they will wait six days after potentially being infected to be tested.
Link said they should have around 40 percent of the District’s tests in the next week or two. “We should get enough tests for every student and every teacher, but right now we are going to focus on our staff members and probably our high school students,” he said.
Elementary students will not be tested, with Link saying, “We are not going to traumatize them.” He added that they might allow junior high students to be tested later on.
Link said their focus will start on staff members to help ease the District’s need for substitutes. “We can get staff members back in quicker than normal if they can get to a rapid test,” he said.
Testing will occur at the back entrance of the District’s Board of Education office. Staff members will be able to schedule testing online and will stay in their car when they arrive. Substitute nurses will swab their nose at a designated parking spot, and those tested will only have to be at the Board of Education office for 45 seconds to a minute.
Link said the District is also switching to a 10-day quarantine, instead of the previous 14 days. The change is due to new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Link said the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center has approved the change.
“If a student or a staff member is not sick within 10 days, there’s a pretty good chance they are not going to get sick,” Link said. “We will still require them to wear a mask for the next four days, and if they are in athletics, they will have to wear the mask for athletics for the next four days.”
Link said about five percent of students are currently quarantined, none of which have been exposed through school. Most are quarantined due to close contacts with someone from home having COVID-19. Link said being around that student outside of school exposed the few that were quarantined due to close contact with another student.
“None of the positives were quarantined,” Link said. “They just came in positive, unless they were quarantined because of their mom or dad.”
Student participation in Ignite Online, the District’s distance learning option, will be significantly lower during the second semester, with many returning to in-person classes. “We started the year off with 566 students online, and in the second semester we will start with 267,” Link said. Around 300 students will participate in the program from January through May.
Link said he will keep school open as long as they can put teachers in classrooms. “I think January and February are going to be tough months, but it’s not going to be tougher than what October and November were,” he said. “I think we will be in pretty good shape.”
• The Board approved a program evaluation for the District’s special education program. The District provides special education services to 629 K-12 students, as well as 110 early childhood students. The District also has six students who currently attend Missouri State School for the Severely Disabled.
Director of Special Education Christa Weber said the District has increased by over 100 special education students in two years. Weber said due to that increase, the program has increased staff over that same time. The program currently has 52 special education teachers, as well as 59 full-time paraprofessionals and 34 part-time paraprofessionals.
Weber said about nine percent of the K-12 student body receives special education assistance, which is below the state target of 13 percent or lower. Last year, 54 percent of special education students are inside regular classes 80 percent or more of the day and 13.7 percent are inside regular classes less than 40 percent of the day.
Weber said her team has amended many students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) this year to increase the amount of time students stay in general education classrooms and are not taken out to receive special education assistance.
She said adding special education teachers into general education classroom to help special education students has been shown to help these students not miss any of the general education curriculum. “It would be great to have a special ed. teacher in every classroom that can support those kids instead of pulling them out,” Weber said.
• Kindergarten teachers and students from Orchard Elementary School presented their Home School Connection kits in front of the board. The kits help students be able to create letters, words and numbers through sensory objects at home.
Kindergarten teacher Ashton Rettig started the kits last year after receiving a teaching and learning grant to start the program with her class. The kits included magnetic letters, Play-Doh, dry-erase markers and board, sand, popsicle sticks, Wikki Stix and hand-made letter cards.
“I didn’t know COVID would happen, but I thought it would be a good idea to get them practicing their letters in fun ways,” Rettig said. “Sensory is always a really big way to get kids locked in on those letters and sounds, so I designed this kit to help with that at home, just in case kids didn’t have the certain materials.”
When classes became virtual last spring, Rettig was still able to do sensory lessons with her students because she knew they had the same materials at home. “It was really cool that even though I gave them the kits in August, they still had those kits and were using them at the end of the school year,” she said.
This year, with the uncertainty of whether students would have an extended break and learn virtually again, all three kindergarten teachers at Orchard are using the kits.
Each School Board member got to look through an example kit, and the students demonstrated how they use the kits. They sounded out and wrote each letter of the words “cat” and “bat” using the dry erase board.
• The Board passed a resolution dissolving the Jackson R-2 Building Corporation. Link said the building corporation was created when the District made a lease purchase for the high school around 2000.
Director of Finance Terry Gibson said the corporation has not had any activity for several years but does require an audit that costs the District $500 each year. “State law has changed and no longer requires that we carry this corporation,” Gibson said.
He added that the corporation is no longer useful to the District because state law now allows the District to enter a lease purchase agreement without a building corporation.
• Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy told the board that a presentation to switch the high school’s GPA system will be presented at the next board meeting. The change would be to a Latin honors system (cum laude) and get rid of the current class ranking system. If approved the transition would take place over the next four years.
“We’ll have several students who have a perfect GPA that won’t even get recognized at graduation because they are not in the top 10 percent,” Link said, adding that the change would help those students be recognized and help more students receive college scholarships.