Litchfield Schools Finish First Semester In Person

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The Litchfield School District will return to five days a week in-person learning starting with the second semester in January.

Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau had high praise for district staff, students and the community for helping to complete the first semester of in-person learning for the district at the regular monthly Litchfield School Board meeting Thursday night, Dec. 17, at Sihler School. All board members were present.

“When we look at this, today marked the end of 18 weeks of in-person learning without a shutdown,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “That’s a pretty awesome thing. It’s a tribute to our staff, administrators, parents and students that we were able to get this far.”

Students will return from Christmas break on Jan. 5, five days a week, with the same early dismissal time to accommodate remote learners.

Each building administrator also provided an update on the number of kids returning to in-person learning at each grade level. About 20 percent of the district remains in remote learning.

Litchfield High School Principal Doug Hoster said the high school students had really stepped up to make sure in-person learning continued.

“They have been remarkable since day one,” Hoster said. “They have been patient, understanding and mature.”

Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson said the district has deployed half of its Wi-Fi hotspots, but still has some available for students who need internet access for remote learning.

Also, Madison Park Principal Adam Favre reminded parents and community members to sign up for the district’s YouTube channel, as they can provide more opportunities if they have 1,000 subscribers. There is no cost to subscribe to the channel.

On another note, Dr. Fuerstenau said the district would be one of 40 Illinois school districts to participate in a rapid COVID testing program through the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education. The program was piloted by six school districts earlier in the year.

Parents would have to sign a waiver that their student could be tested, but if a student came to the office with a headache or stomachache, they could undergo a rapid test and find out if they have COVID in just 15 minutes. Currently, as those are symptoms of COVID, a student with a headache or a stomachache would be sent home, as would their siblings. Dr. Fuerstenau expects it to be implemented the middle of January.

Board member Gregg Hires asked about some confusion in being able to accept rapid test results in students, and Hoster said that was an issue at the high school, where a sibling had tested positive, so since the other siblings had been exposed to a positive case, they were required to quarantine.

Board President Julie Abel thanked the staff and administrators for all their hard work in the first semester.

“We made it through 18 weeks,” said Abel. “As a board, we’ve had to make some tough decisions, and we know the decisions we make, you have to implement. Thanks to everyone for their hard work. I’m proud to be part of this district.”

Board member Mike Fleming echoed her sentiments, noting he had been concerned before the start of the school year, but had been very impressed by how the district handled things.

Abel also highlighted the transportation, kitchen and custodial staffs, who instead of exchanging Christmas gifts this year, made a donation to the Litchfield Food Pantry.

Other Business

During the consent agenda, the board approved the monthly bills for $288,385, including $87,666 from the education fund, $46,798 from operations and maintenance, $4,127 from debt service, $29,246 from transportation, $116,127 from capital projects and $4,420 from debt service.

In his treasurer’s report, Dr. Fuerstenau said the balance of all funds as of Nov. 30, is nearly $25 million, including $9 million in operating funds and $14 million in capital projects. He added that the state is currently up-to-date on general state aid, but has not paid categorical grants, like transportation and early childhood education.

Dr. Fuerstenau said they are monitoring the proposed state budget cuts of $700 million. He said as of now, they are not planning to cut general state aid, but could cut categorical grants. They are also watching the federal government’s next COVID-relief funding, which could provide some funding for school districts as well.

Under old business, the district unanimously approved the 2021 tax levy, with no changes to how it was presented in November. Dr. Fuerstenau said the rate stayed stable with no real increase.

The board also approved a first reading of board policy updates from the Press Plus service. A second reading will be held next month.

The board unanimously approved a renewal contract with Environmental Consultants, who monitors the air quality in all district buildings. They also complete the district’s asbestos surveillance every six months, as required by state law. Abel asked if they would be able to take buildings off the contract when the new buildings are completed, and Dr. Fuerstenau said yes.

In a final motion, the board approved the transfer of $400,000 from working cash to the education fund. Dr. Fuerstenau said that depending on the federal stimulus package, they may not need it.

Under personnel, the board accepted the resignation of parent engagement coordinator Larry Blevins, effective Dec. 31. They also approved a family medical leave request from Katie Steinbach, from Dec. 7 through Jan. 4. 

The board accepted two letters of intent to retire, one from high school teacher Jo Brummet and one from elementary teacher Mary Schmidt, both at the end of the 2025-2026 school year.

After the personnel report, the board met in closed session for about a half an hour with no action taken.

The meeting adjourned at 7:35 p.m. Board members will meet again on Thursday evening, Jan. 21, beginning at 6 p.m. at Sihler School.

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