The Fairfield Area School Board held a “boardshop” on Monday night in which they discussed with district staff members the many issues facing their schools during the recent COVID surge.
The importance of keeping on top of the quickly-evolving situation has been made clear as all sixth grade students were sent home between November 12 and 19 and, as those students returned to class today, the entire high school was closed until after Thanksgiving.
Both closures were the result of positive COVID cases. Teachers who were directly exposed to the students are or have been in quarantine and teaching online.
Middle School Principal Patricia Weber said twelve teachers across the middle and high schools were currently out for COVID-related reasons. “I’m pulling other teachers to cover their classes. Each time we pull a teacher it becomes problematic. When it is repeated it is extremely problematic,” said Weber.
“If someone gets a phone call that a relative has tested positive they are out of the building. We may be short in a moment’s notice,” said Weber.
Weber said the school was coping by substituting job roles and that librarians and guidance counselors have been asked to cover classroom teaching.
Weber said she was concerned that things would get very difficult if more people test positive. “I don’t know what I would do if my secretary would test positive,” said Weber, “because that would mean I would have to be quarantined.”
District Business Manager Amy Simmons is currently quarantined and working from home.
Elementary principal Barbara Richwine said having self-contained classrooms made it easier to control the spread of the virus at the elementary level, but they were also scrambling to staff positions. “We’ve used our reading specialist and our art teacher. It’s a huge ripple effect,” said Richwine.
Richwine said no elementary teachers were currently out due to COVID.
Board member David Millstein said he found the board meeting to be very useful in getting a better picture of what was happening in the schools. Millstein said the meeting “provided a much different image of what is going on. It’s completely different optics on the situation. Hearing directly from the staff is a huge help.”
In other discussions, the board learned that the spraying of disinfectant in the classrooms was leaving a film on desks. The district plans to have a staff member clean the desks nightly.
Simmons said a newly-hired part-time nurse, who has had experience working with COVID patients, has been helping with the school’s cases.
The board also discussed repairs to the phone and Internet systems that would cost about $850,000 and would be paid for out of about $950,000 that has been earmarked for infrastructure.
Simmons said the cost would be reduced by sixty percent thanks to increased federal funding if the school maintains its current percentage of free and reduced lunch students.
Simmons said families whose children are getting free or reduced lunches need to reapply for the program. “It doesn’t take more than five minutes to do the application and it could affect our funding,” said Simmons.
“The federal government is all about getting infrastructure out to the schools. We’ll reach out to families personally. We don’t want to lose any funding,” said Simmons.
Charles Stangor is Gettysburg News’s Publisher and Editor in Chief.