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Jackson R-2 reduces quarantine timeline due to CDC changes

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The Jackson R-2 School Board revised the district’s COVID-19 Re-entry Plan during its Jan. 11 meeting to reflect the latest changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and rapid testing availability.

Most of the changes to the plan reduce the amount of time needed to stay home after a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. Instead of being allowed to return 10 days after symptoms first appeared, students and staff members are now allowed to return after five days if they wear a facemask for five days after returning.

A separate eating space away from other students will be made for students who return after five days and are therefore required to be masked at all times. Students and staff members returning to school after testing positive for COVID-19 must still be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medication.

Another change to the plan reduces the amount of time students and staff members must be symptom free to stay in school if they are a close contact to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The time period has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days.

In addition, rapid tests will no longer be available from the district for most students. “Due to limited supply, we will not be able to test everybody starting next week,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “We are going to have to start conserving those for staff members who are symptomatic.”

Rapid tests will remain available for high school students involved in an end-of-season athletic event who were exposed to COVID-19 and would like to take a test on the day of the extracurricular event to still participate.

The school board scheduled a virtual meeting for Tuesday, Jan. 25, to further update the re-entry plan. The board voted to eliminate contact tracing within the school setting. Read more in next week’s issue of The Cash-Book Journal.

In other action:

• The board approved the school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year. Classes will begin on Aug. 22, with the last day of school scheduled for May 25. Thanksgiving break will be held Nov. 23-25, winter break will be from Dec. 21 through Jan 2 and spring break will be held April 7-14.

Staff workdays are scheduled on Jan. 3 and May 26. An additional eight days of professional development days are also scheduled, with four days scheduled before the start of classes.

The first semester will include 80 school days and the second semester will include 92 school days for a total of 172 school days. Students will be released at noon for one early release day on the last day of school. The first five days of school missed for inclement weather will not be made up.

• The board approved a resolution authorizing the refinancing of the district’s 2012 bonds. Joe Kinder of Stifel Financial Corp. presented the refinancing plan to the school board, saying the district is estimated to save over $1.3 million over the next 10 years.

The bonds are eligible to be refinanced on a tax-exempt basis during a 90-day period due to 2017 changes in the federal tax laws. The refinancing will not extend the bond period, currently scheduled to end in 2032.

Final rates on the bond refinance were not available at the time of the meeting, with Kinder saying they were a week or two away. Kinder said they were currently waiting for the district’s credit rating to be concluded before the sale.

Kinder said they would be in communication if there were a drastic change in the savings during the sale, but are anticipating new interest rates around 1.6% to 1.7%. The current bonds have an interest rate around 4%.

• Jackson R-2 Chief Financial Officer Terry Gibson said the district’s total cash balance is currently $16 million after the district made a $4 million payment related to a lawsuit dealing with the construction of the high school’s event center.

Gibson said the district currently has a 12.5% reserve balance, with a goal of recovering and maintaining a reserve balance around 20% of the district’s funds. “We have a plan for recovery,” Gibson said.

• The board approved a budget revision of the current 2021-2022 district budget to add a $600,000 grant to the district’s receipts and expenditures. The reimbursement grant from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services covers COVID-19 testing by the district.

• The board approved an evaluation of the district’s ALERT (Advanced Learning and Enrichment using Research and Technology) Program. The program, which includes classes for gifted students in first through eighth grade, serves over 200 students.

Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell said students are screened to be included in the gifted program, with around 3-5% of the student population testing into the program.

ALERT teachers Lauren Skelton (elementary school) and Staci Beussink (middle school and junior high) shared the topics covered in ALERT classes with the help of some of their students.

ALERT students in first through third grade learned about coding and robotics, while fourth graders studied the history and science related to pandemics. Last year, elementary students in the ALERT program learned about U.S. presidents and researched the difference between political parties. One student in the class received a letter back from President Jimmy Carter.

At the middle school, fifth grade ALERT students are learning about the stock market this year, researching various companies and mock invest $12,500 in the stock market. The students were able to spend their money in five companies, with the opportunity to sell and buy new stocks throughout the year.

Sixth graders in ALERT are learning about financial literacy and life expenses, each having to make a budget based on a job they choose, the cost of living for the location they are randomly assigned and the educational expenses needed for their chosen career. Students are also given fate cards to simulate unexpected expenses.

ALERT students at the junior high school have been studying a potential zombie apocalypse this year, studying the brain, learning about viruses and historic outbreaks, comparing various counties’ COVID-19 responses and reviewing other survival preparedness plans. The students also try to survive the zombie apocalypse using supplies they have earned through various activities.

Beussink said one of the key lessons this year for the seventh and eighth grade students is finding credible sources and gaining research skills. “The CDC has a preparedness plan for the zombie apocalypse,” Beussink said. “At the end, because we have already studied viruses and the parts of the brain, students actually create their own zombie that could be medically possible.”

• The board approved a bid from Ultimate Kronos Group to install electronic time clocks across the district to record hourly staff member’s time and attendance. Gibson said the district is currently using papers to record the number of hours staff members work. At least two time clocks will be installed in each school building.

Gibson said they reviewed all four proposals submitted to the district, calling other K-12 school districts that use each system as references. While Kronos had fewer K-12 clients compared to the other three proposals, they received better reviews and have a strong reputation.

Current name badges used by the district will be compatible with the new time clocks. Gibson said the features available with Kronos, along with the cost, went into the recommendation. The Kronos system will cost $77,220 in the first year of implementation and $26,220 in subsequent years.

The time clocks will be installed and ready to go by the beginning of the next school year. Payroll and information technology staff members in the district will be a part of the implementation team.

• The board approved summer school dates for 2022. The district will host the 16-day summer school program across the district June 1-23. Summer school will not be held on June 20 in observance of the federal holiday Juneteenth.

• Students and staff members from Millersville Elementary School sang a song and gave gifts to the school board members to thank them for their dedication and hard work for the district.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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