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NSD sets graduation date

By Staff, 05/29/20 10:02 AM

ROSSTON – Nevada High School will have a traditional graduation, of sorts.

The Nevada School Board, during its May meeting Thursday night, agreed to the idea of holding a traditional graduation ceremony, but with restrictions. Graduation is scheduled for July 9 at 7 p.m. in the gym. The graduates will be given nine tickets for their families as social distancing will be observed. No one from out of state will be allowed in the school, and masks must be worn.

Once graduation is over, everyone must leave as no congregating will be allowed. While this is the district’s plan, it still has to be approved by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Rick McAfee, superintendent, said nobody wanted a virtual or drive through graduation. If the plan is approved, the school will be sanitized prior to the ceremony. McAfee said it will be slower as people entering the school will get their temperature and oxygen levels checked. Anyone with a fever will be turned away.

It was also a sad meeting for the board as board member Todd Brown tendered his resignation, citing personal and business reasons. He told the rest of the panel he loves the school, students and parents, but there are things going on with his business he has to deal with. “I’m under a lot of stress here,” he said, “and I hope you understand. We’re all friends and everyone knows what they’re doing. This is what I feel I need to do. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll help out any way I can, but I feel I have to do this for my family and business.”

McAfee said a special meeting will be held to show the board’s appreciation of Brown’s service. Brown has been on the board for years and served three times as its president. The resignation was effective immediately.

Tonda Pennington, principal at Nevada Elementary School, said there wasn’t a graduation for kindergarten or sixth grade this year, but everyone understood. Diplomas and awards, she told the board, have been mailed out to the students and she’s ready to get started planning for the new year.

McAfee said the district is working on a reentry plan for the 2020-21 school year, but there are problems concerning transportation. To maintain social distancing on a bus, he told the board, only 11 children could be allowed on a 71-passenger bus. This would require the district to need 19 more buses and drivers.

The school, he continued, will likely go to an A-B block schedule, with some students coming Monday and Wednesday and others Tuesday and Thursday with Friday’s reserved for students needing remediation. As most extracurricular activities aren’t required, these classes won’t be offered. In addition, team teaching will be done with students remaining in one classroom while teachers rotate in and out.

However, lunch could also be a problem. McAfee said the state wants meals to be packaged and brought to students in the classroom, but this would require hiring extra personnel, something the district can’t afford. McAfee said this won’t be a problem for larger districts, but small districts don’t have the finances to do it. In addition, the state wants districts to provide three masks for each student and teacher, which would require someone to be hired to wash them and make sure they were sanitized, something else the district can’t afford.

In working to open the school in August, he said the district is taking a safety-first approach. “This is something I worry about every night. I’m asking for the understanding from the parents and students.”

He told the board there’s been a lot of talk at the state level about how the state is ready for virtual school. This, though, isn’t the case as more than a third of the students in the Nevada District don’t have internet access. “The state is saying it will be provided, but it won’t be done in three months.”

Additionally, he continued, the state is spending millions on platforms such as Zoom, which costs $90 per month per student, when Google has a free platform that could be used. “There’s a lot of unknowns and we’ll do the best we can.”

In other business, the board approved the wellness policy for the coming year, and learned tax collections are down due to the pandemic. McAfee said the district isn’t spending anything it doesn’t have to and hopes the voters will approve keeping the millage in the September election. “If it passes, we can handle things with no problem in the future,” he said, “but our balances are getting low, which isn’t unexpected this time of year.”

The district’s school improvement plan was also approved by the panel. McAfee said the plan currently consists of getting ready for reentry.

The board also approved the retire/removed fixed asset plan to get rid of things no longer of use to the district. This includes some old copiers with more than a million copies on them, a mowing machine and an old bus that’s being scavenged for parts.

There was one finding for the district’s legislative audit – segregation of duties. This, McAfee said isn’t unusual and the state understands. There were some verbal recommendations given, including requiring the district to use new codes. These changes have been made.

The final order of business was to hire three new instructors. Bailey Smith was hired as the girls’ basketball coach and junior English teacher. Blake Simmons was tabbed to replace Milton Lowe as the school’s agriculture teacher and Bradley Brown was hired as a new second grade teacher.

The board will meet again on June 25 and discuss a replacement for Brown.