Winter Sports, Remote Learners Occupy Board


Students who are not succeeding at remote learning this semester may have to return to classroom next semester, members of the Hillsboro School Board debated during a lengthy meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the junior high cafeteria, as well as voting to put off making a decision on basketball until a meeting by the sports' governing body the following night.

"Things are going along as they have been–not as good as we would like it but better than just about every other place," Superintendent David Powell said about remote learners during the pandemic.

Building principals reported either the same number or fewer remote learners than previous months, and many are still not doing the daily school work required of them.

"The ones who were doing well are still doing well," junior high Principal Don VanGiesen summed.  "The ones who were struggling are continuing to struggle."

Requiring students to come back, though, would have a negative impact on social distancing in classrooms, and Powell said legal council "has some issues with forcing students back."

During his report, Powell said that the school has asked more than a hundred students to quarantine due to contact tracing so far this school year, "but hundreds have quarantined due to contact tracing outside the school," giving as an example a parent who tests positive, quarantining the entire family.

Another possible concern is a spike in COVID cases after family gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We could go remote in one day if the situation requires it," Powell said.

Two Hillsboro medical doctors, Dr. Ben Cady and Dr. Josh Billington, also recommended returning to school after Thanksgiving, then reacting if the situation requires it.

"Many of our school positives are due to outside of school contacts," Dr. Billington said.

Both doctors, however, did not anticipate a plateau over the winter; the number of positive cases will continue to increase.

"There's no sign of this slowing down," Dr. Cady said.

The superintendent began the winter sports discussion by saying that the governor, Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) have recommended students not play basketball, but the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has left decisions up to local school districts.

Powell said that the district insurance carrier had no opinion about liability, but the district attorney did and recommended not allowing basketball.

"I am recommending we follow the guidelines by the governor, IDPH, and ISBE," Powell said.  "I can't think of any issue in which I would recommend we go against the advice of the governor, IDPH, ISBE, and our attorney.  I know there are dissenting opinions, and I'm sure we're going to hear some tonight."

The medical doctors in the room, asked by school board President Barbara Adams to opine, said there is no data on the COVID risk in basketball.

"We love and support basketball, but we have not seen anything that would support deviating from the guidelines," Dr. Cady said.

Athletic Director Aaron Duff said "IHSA is already back-tracking," and that 200-some of the 300-some IHSA member schools have indicated they will not have winter sports.”

Earlier in the meeting during the portion of the agenda set aside for public comments, two high school parents asked board members to allow winter sports.

"I know that you have a big decision to make concerning sports," parent Kurt Compton said.  "I hope you do vote for that."

He also hoped that games could be streamed live instead of recorded, and expressed concerns about a junior varsity schedule.

"These girls and these boys want to play winter sports," parent Charlie Harston said.  He also questioned how many of the students who had been quarantined had tested positive for COVID-19; the answer was two.

"I understand we have guidelines to go by, but these kids need to be in school," he said.

Other parents also participated in the board discussion; all spoke in favor of winter sports.

The board set a special meeting for next week, Tuesday, Nov. 17, to make a decision on winter sports.

Board members reviewed the 2019-20 school report card, but because of the suspension of in-person learning during the spring of last school year, "academic progress" assessments–typically central to the discussion–were not part of the data.

"We don't have as much data to report on this year since we didn't do assessments in the spring," curriculum director Hope McBrain said to begin the presentation.

Data, which is available on the ISBE website, included enrollment, demographics, attendance, truancy, mobility, finances, and average class size.  The Hillsboro School District is higher than the state average in IEPs and mobility, and lower than the state average in chronic absenteeism, truancy, class size, and well under in spending per student:  the state average is $8,582 per student and the Hillsboro district spends $5,301 per student.

The data also showed 94 percent of Hillsboro ninth grade students are on track for graduation, five percent above state average.  Hillsboro has a 94 percent graduation rate, two percent above state average.

"We did give a clean opinion on the financial statements," auditor Andrea Suhre of Scheffel Boyle Certified Public Accountants reported to the board.

"Revenues were fairly stable," the auditor reported.  Revenue was $26 million and expenses were $20.5 million; the large surplus was due to working cash bonds that were sold to cover year-to-year deficits.  In total, the district has about $6.4 million in debt.

The board will act on the audit at next month's meeting, then post it on the district website.

Powell presented a preliminary 2020 tax levy that predicts a ten-cent reduction in the district's tax rate, but there is a potential asterisk.

The superintendent pointed out that the "big unknown" is the assessed value of the former Coffeen Power Station, which was once as much as one-third of the district's total assessed value.

Based on the present assessed value, the preliminary levy is $8.6 million, more than $50,000 less than last year's.   

The board also adopted policies suggested by the Illinois State Board of Education and presented last month, including a new behavioral intervention policy.

The board reappointed Jason Miller, Candi Ellington and Gene White to the Hillsboro Education Foundation board of directors.

After a closed session, the board accepted resignations of Beckemeyer aide Michelle Holtschulte, HCCDC employee McKensy Leitz, and Beckemeyer art teacher Kris McEuen; accepted the retirement of food service supervisor Peggy Anderson at the end of the semester, and hired Jennifer Weiss and Rachelle Dewerff as aides at Beckemeyer.


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