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New COVID-19 quarantine options announced for Jackson schools

Mayor Dwain Hahs spoke to the Jackson R-2 School Board about the upcoming tax vote. Photo by Jay Forness

The Jackson R-2 School Board approved two new COVID-19 quarantine options for students and staff members who are close contacts to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 during its Oct. 12 meeting. These options, both of which require masking, are not available to those who were exposed to someone in their household.

These two new options, called “mask and monitor” and “test to stay,” were added due to new guidance from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and went into effect Oct. 18.

“This allows two more options for our students,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “It gives us some leeway to try to keep more kids in school.”

The mask and monitor option allows students and staff members to come to school if they remain masked for 14 days and stay symptom free. These individuals are still required to quarantine outside of the school setting. These students are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

The test to stay option allows students to participate in extracurricular if they receive a minimum of three rapid antigen tests with negative results and remain symptom free. In addition, these students will be required to wear masks at school and to quarantine outside of the school setting.

These individuals will take their first test the day the person is identified as a close contact, as well as two additional nonconsecutive school days within the first seven days. In addition, these students will be required to be tested any day they participate in an extracurricular competition for 14 days.

These tests will be administered at each school building before students are allowed to go to class, with testers being paid a stipend for administering the tests. The costs for testing will       be reimbursed by a grant through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

To be considered a close contact by the District, the individual must be within 3 feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 15 minutes or more cumulatively.

Previous quarantine options for Jackson students and staff members will remain in place, including the option to get tested to shorten a quarantine. After a seven-day quarantine, the student or staff member can return to school on day eight after receiving a negative test on day seven. The quarantined student or staff member can also return to school after a 10-day quarantine without testing on day 11.

The District doesn’t quarantine if the student or staff member is fully vaccinated or was masked when coming in contact with a COVID-19 positive person, unless they develop symptoms in the next 14 days. These students are allowed to continue participating in extracurricular activities.

The Board also approved a resolution on COVID-19 leave, which allows up to eight additional days of paid leave to full-time employees who are unable to work because of a COVID-19 quarantine.

Part-time employees will also receive the equivalent COVID-19 leave if they are unable to work due to a COVID-19 quarantine, based on the number of hours worked on average over four business days.

Employees must first use four days of their own personal, vacation or sick leave before they would receive four days of COVID-19 leave. This can be done twice, resulting in employees using eight days of their own leave time to receive eight days of COVID-19 leave.

The change in the COVID-19 leave policy will be retroactive, going back to July 1, and will continue until June 30, 2022, unless cancelled by the Board.

“Throughout the year, one of the things that we said as a District was that we were going to continue to monitor our COVID-19 numbers and see what’s happening in our District,” Smith said. “One of the things that we have noticed is that our numbers are continuing to go down as far as positive case rates and quarantines.”

As of Oct. 14, the District had 20 students who were COVID-19 positive, 3 staff members who were COVID-19 positive, 42 students who were quarantined and one staff member who is quarantined.

Since the beginning of school in August, the District’s positivity rate of quarantined students and staff members is 3.5 percent. “That is very consistent with other districts that I’ve been speaking with,” Smith said.

In other action

• The Board approved anevaluation for the Parents As Teachers (PAT) program, which has grown in the past two years to help more families during the child’s early development.

The PAT program allows families to be visited by certified parent educators from the time of a child’s birth to his or her entry into kindergarten. The PAT educators provide screenings of the children’s development to inform parents of possible delays, as well as provide educational resources for the children and parents.

Brooke Uchtman, early childhood director and PAT coordinator, said the last time the program was evaluated two years ago, a major concern was the need for more parent educators to keep up with the program’s demand.

The District employs three full-time parent educators, and added four additional part-time evening parent educators during the 2019-20 school year.

Uchtman said the additions have allowed the program to see 90 more families from the 2018-19 school year, as well as increasing the number of visits to each family. “We are seeing families more often, and we are seeing more families, period,” she said.

During the 2020-21 school year, the PAT program served 368 families and conducted 2,783 home visits. In addition, 330 children were screened through the program, revealing 179 children with indicated delays.

Several parents spoke about the program during the meeting, saying their children looked forward to the visits and it gave them resources to help their children’s development between visits.

• Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs presented to the Board about the potential benefits to the School District if a use tax is approved in the upcoming election on Nov. 2. The use tax, which would be a 2.5 percent sales tax on out-of-state purchases made online, would help fund park and recreation projects in the city.

Jackson R-2 School District currently shares many fields with the city – including the softball field, tennis courts and trails used by the cross-country team. “We have a great partnership between the City of Jackson and the R-2 School District,” Hahs said.

The use tax revenue would be used to improve sports fields throughout the park system – including those used by youth and adult sports leagues. In addition, a splash pad and other improvements to the City’s swimming pool could be coming.

“We would also like to expand our music offerings that we have within the park,” Hahs said. “We have a great bandshell and would like to have some other music programs and maybe some plays out there in the summertime.”

If passed, the use tax is estimated to generate $500,000 for the parks and recreation department annually.

“Adding tax revenue is always a challenge,” Hahs said. “But the one benefit we have with this local tax is that everyone can see the improvements every day as you drive around Jackson and use our parks.”

• Auditor Jeff Stroder of Beussink, Hey, Roe & Stro-der presented a clean audit report on the District’s financial records. Stroder stated the District’s financial statements were fairly stated, there were no instances of noncompliance with laws and federal requirements.

Stroder said District staff was very knowledgeable about the financial records and was able to answer any questions they had. He added that no adjustments had to be made to the financial records to get to a clean report. “That doesn’t happen everywhere I go; in fact, it’s pretty rare,” Stroder said.

The only issue that was brought up was in an additional audit that was required due to the School District receiving $7.2 million in federal funds last school year. One aspect checked in this audit was if the District gave federal funding to any company currently suspended or disbarred from receiving federal funds.

Stroder said the District failed to check if one of the four vendors included in the audit was on the disbarred list before a payment was given. Stroder said it seemed like an oversight and the company was not on the list. “We had to report what we found, but it does not look like this is a problem that we would have to be worried about,” he said.

• The Board set the Jackson High School Class of 2022 graduation date for Friday, May 20. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.

• The Board approved changes to three District policies, including a change to the audio and visual recording policy to allow parents to record Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or 504 Plan meetings due to Missouri House Bill 432. The recording policy now also authorizes the superintendent or designee to restrict recording if the recording is misused or the restriction is necessary for copyright purposes.

The school board elections policy was edited due to Missouri House Bill 271, which changed the filing period for elections of school board members. The filing period now begins on the 17th Tuesday and ends the 14th Tuesday prior to the municipal election day in April. For the next local School Board election, filing will begin on Dec. 7 and end on Dec. 28.

The political campaigns policy was edited to clarify that school districts cannot use public funds to support or oppose ballot measures or candidates to public office.

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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