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NSB given updates

By Staff, 05/1/20 10:24 AM

ROSSTON – April’s meeting of the Nevada School Board was held in the school’s gym with tables spaced to provide the proper social distancing.

Mostly, the meeting dealt with updates concerning the coronavirus. The board, though, accepted the transfer of two students from Spring Hill into the Nevada School District through the school choice program. Two others were accepted at the March meeting.

The panel also voted to hire two new teachers for Nevada High School and advertise for a high school basketball coach and elementary teacher. One of the new hires is conditional depending on him getting his certification.

Superintendent Rick McAfee told the board as the start of the meeting how because of COVID-19, the laws have been changed regarding when school boards meet. Under the new law, boards don’t have to meet when school is not in session. McAfee said it was up to the board to either continue meeting on a monthly basis or not meet again until August. The board, at the end of the meeting, voted to continue having monthly meetings.

“Everyone’s trying to find the new normal,” McAfee said. “We’re having a hard time adjusting. It’s not easy to accept the responsibility for those who come to work, but I do it.” The district delivers 2,000 meals to students every Wednesday, taking AMI work with them and picking it up later so students can continue learning. He said the district is working with Verizon on a plan to help students and plans to buy enough “firesticks” to be used as hot spots in homes. The problem, though, is 25 percent of the students live in areas without cell service, making it difficult for them to access the internet, so they couldn’t do the work digitally or by using Zoom. He continued, saying the district is looking at buying new Chromebooks to replace the ones bought three years ago, which will be sent home with students.

The problem, he added, is nobody knows when the second round of the virus will hit. Teachers will have to be ready with lesson plans literally at a moment’s notice so they can be sent home with students when schools are shut down. “We’re working hard to try and find a way to present the material,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to get through the next four weeks.”

McAfee said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has stated July 1 is the first date live on-site graduations can be held. Any held prior to this must be done digitally. The problem is, he continued, there will still be restrictions and only 40 percent of the gym can be used, which would allow 400 people to attend the commencement exercises. Additionally, driver’s licenses will be checked and no one from out of state will be allowed inside. Once the ceremony is over, there is to be no gatherings outside and “parties” are limited to groups of no more than 10.

“The students have worked hard,” he said, “and deserve a graduation. I’m just not sure how we can do it.” Other restrictions on live graduations require those handing out diplomas must wear gloves and PPE gear.

“I’d love to have a prom, even if it’s in the summer.” McAfee said several families have bought dresses for the prom. “This is not a school board decision it comes from the governor’s office.”

In the meantime, he continued, the district is working to get ready for the 2020-21 school year, when and if school opens in August. “We have to be ready to run because the children will be behind,” he said. “We need to move them forward.”

It will take six to eight weeks for the students to catch up from what they’ve missed since school closed in mid-March. This, McAfee said, will cost a quarter of the school year, just playing catch up, and a year’s worth of work will have to be done in less time. This, he told the board, is doable unless the second round of the virus requires schools to be closed again and students fall further behind. He pointed out when the Spanish Flu hit in 1918, schools were shut down for two years. He said this isn’t a likely scenario for the coronavirus, but the district has a long road ahead of it.

He told the board the state has approved a series of waivers concerning carryover funds because of the virus. Trips have been cancelled, but the funds set aside from them can be used next year. He added, the restrictions on how much can be carried over has been lifted due to COVID-19.

The board was informed of work being done to the physical plant, including floors being stripped and waxed. He said two bathrooms at the high school need to be refurbished and will be done over the break.

The board received some good news concerning the price of diesel fuel. McAfee said when the district bought fuel in December it cost $26,000, but a recent purchase cost less than $12,000.

The board will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on May 28.