Panhandle Details Plan To Reopen Schools

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When Panhandle School District students go back to class on Monday, Aug. 16, they will do so from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with masks optional, according to the plan announced by Superintendent Aaron Hopper at the school board meeting on Monday, July 19.

Working with other area schools, Hopper said that the plan is do a phased implementation which will have the district continue using mitigation strategies, such as distancing, disinfection and ventilation work and handwashing, to limit the chances of contracting COVID-19.

While masks will be optional at school, the district is heeding the advice of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and requiring masks on busses. Hopper said that depending on circumstances, masks may be required in the district at some point.

Other changes from last year include lunch and breakfast back in the cafeteria, a full sports schedule with no spectator restrictions, full PE and no remote learning. Hopper said that the district is still developing it’s e-learning plan that would be used in situations like snow days, but for now, that is the only remote learning being discussed.

Hopper added that the district applied for a grant that will make student meals free for the 21-22 school year, as they were in 20-21, and is expecting that the district will receive that grant.

The plan, which was required to receive funding from the American Recovery Act, will be reviewed every six months through September 2023 and will be voted on in a board meeting later in July or early August. The plan will also be posted at www.panhandleschools.com for the public.

The board also discussed the continuing reorganization talks with Morrisonville, which would have the two districts dissolve, with Morrisonville housing a combined junior high and Lincolnwood housing a combined high school. Both districts would still have elementary school programs.

Hopper said that he and board member Dana Pitchford attended the last Morrisonville board meeting and spoke with them about their thoughts and plans. It was also recommended that one board member from each district be assigned to a committee with the two superintendents to speak about staff salaries and the per pupil cost of the reorganization.

Hopper said that determining the economic impact is a keystone issue for the project and it would be better to sort issues out now or find out if the plan is feasible before it goes further. Board member Scott Cowdrey volunteered to be on the committee to discus sthe economic impact.

In other business, Hopper announced that many of the classrooms have been put back together for the start of school and the district hopes to have an open house or dedication for Darci’s Dream Library, which is nearly completed at Raymond Grade School in honor of late teacher Darci Terneus.

The board also passed the first reading of board policy changes and approved the copier contract renewal with Watts Copy for five years. Hopper said that the new contract is based on usage, not a flat rate and should be similar if not more economical to the previous contract, while also replacing some of the district’s color printers.

Before going into closed session at 7:32 p.m., there were two questions in the community comments section. One pertained to the mask policy and if the school would change to requiring masks if the CDC and ISBE changed their recommendation. Hopper said that the district requires the state aid to operate and would be bound to ISBE decision, but hoped to have local control and community input on those decisions.

Rachael Mulch asked if the board  had taken any action regarding the new national sexual education standards. Hopper said that the state has not written anything into law yet and the two bills at the state level have some different options. Until further guidance is given, Hopper said the district will continue with it’s current course.

After meeting in closed session for just under an hour and a half, the board acted on six motions regarding personnel, including accepting the resignation of Jana Masten as Farmersville Grade School principal and art teacher. Masten recently accepted a job as principal at North Elementary in Nokomis.

Other motions included accepting the resignations of Meredith Jones and Wes Felty, approving the fall coaches for the 2021-22 school year, approving Josh Stone as high school baseball coach, approving Erin Whitman as Lincolnwood cook, approving Tracy Churchwell as Lincolnwood para-professional and approving Jodi Merkel as Farmersville Grade School secretary.

The board will meet again on Aug. 16, and once before then to approve the safe school plan.

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