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JR-2 approves COVID-19 re-entry plan

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The Jackson R-2 School Board approved the district’s COVID-19 re-entry plan for the upcoming school year, removing more restrictions and treating COVID-19 like any other contagious diseases such as the flu.

Superintendent Scott Smith said passing a COVID-19 re-entry plan was required to receive COVID-19 relief funds through the federal and state governments. The updated plan does not require quarantining, the district does not do contact tracing and face masks are not required.

“At this point in time, we do feel that how we treat COVID is much different,” Smith said. “Luckily as a school district, we did not require masks last year. In our district, there were some times where somebody would be required to quarantine – those restrictions are now gone in this current plan.”

Smith said students and staff members who test positive for COVID-19 will now reported it to the building nurse – much like other contagious diseases. Students and staff members with COVID-19 will be required to stay home for five days, with the first day of symptoms counted as the day one. Masks will be recommended, but not required, for an additional five days after returning to school.

Students and staff members will be allowed to return to school on day six if their symptoms are improving, no new symptoms are developing and they have not had a fever, vomited or had diarrhea in the past 24 hours. Smith said these guidelines are the same as what is asked of students who have the flu, strep throat and other contagious diseases.

“It’s going to be treated more like the flu,” Smith said. “We feel at this point, that’s probably what we can do without causing issues.”

Students and staff members will no longer be required to notify the school if someone in their immediate family tests positive for COVID-19, and close contacts to those who test positive for COVID-19 can still come to school. These individuals are asked to monitor for symptoms and contact their school nurse if symptoms develop.

The plan does state that procedures may change, including the use of contact tracing and face coverings, if illnesses rise to the point where 20 percent of the student population would be absent due to COVID-19.

“As a school district, when we have 20 percent of our population sick with a cold or flu, that’s the trigger point where we look at what we need to start doing differently,” Smith said. “So that’s where we’ve tried to be consistent moving forward.”

Special sections in the re-entry plan related to athletics and school nurse procedures have been eliminated, and now state that athletes and nurses will follow the district’s general health and wellness procedures. Special cleaning and social distancing procedures have also been removed from the plan.

The board voted 6-1 on the re-entry plan, with board member Kristen Lewis voting against the passage of the district’s COVID-19 plan. Lewis said her “no” vote was not due to anything particular in the re-entry plan, but due to the fact that the school district is doing anything related to COVID-19 at this time.

“I would like to thank everyone who worked on this plan,” Lewis said. “I know it’s come a long distance, so my ‘no’ is not against anybody. I know you guys did a tremendous job putting this particular plan together.”

Local resident Jennifer Boren, who stated she has worked in the medical field for more than 20 years, spoke against the use of masks in schools and requiring people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a public comment during the meeting.

In other action:

• The board approved a transportation recruitment and retention plan for the upcoming school year, using additional state transportation funds to give bonuses to bus drivers

“We have been looking at ideas to get more drivers and try to encourage drivers to stay with us,” Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder said. “We want to make it more profitable for them to stay for a full year.”

Kinder said this may not be something the district can do every year, but seemed like a good idea with the district receiving additional transportation funding from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

New bus drivers this year can receive $500. They would receive the first $300 after passing their driving test and driving 20 times. The new drivers would receive the remaining $200 in June if they drive on a regular basis for the remainder of the year.

Bus drivers who have driven for the district before will receive up to $1,350 at the end of the year if they drive at least 85% of the year and remain in good standing with the district. Drivers who are terminated, resign, retire or leave the district for any reason prior to the last day of school will forfeit their bonus.

Drivers who have driven two to four years can earn a $650 bonus, drivers who have driven five to seven years can earn a $750 bonus, drivers who have driven eight-10 years can earn a $750 bonus, drivers who have driven 11-20 years can earn a $1,100 bonus and drivers who have driven 21 or more years can earn the full $1,350 bonus.

Based on the current drivers and the number of open positions, these bonuses will cost the district up to $59,700. “We believe this would help our drivers and would help recruit new drivers,” Kinder said.

The board also approved the bus routes for the upcoming school year. Kinder said five of the district’s 54 bus routes currently do not have a driver assigned to them. He said the district expects to fill those five spots with people the district hopes to hire by Aug. 22.

The district had 67 different bus routes at the same time last year. The district has gone to a tiered system this year, where several buses will pick up students from Orchard Drive Elementary School after already completing a different route.

The bus route changes are expected to cost the district about $260,000 – including an increase of $80,000 in certified staff salaries by extending school hours, 105,000 in former part-time positions becoming full-time positions, $60,000 in bus drivers becoming full-time employees and $5,000 in job advertising.

Smith said the increase in transportation funding will help offset the increased costs for the district, in addition to the new sign-on and retention stipends.

In addition, the board approved a transportation pay schedule, detailing how bus drivers will be paid for driving during school trips and other activities. The base pay rate of $43.88 per route for bus drivers was set during the budget process, but the pay rate for additional bus driver duties was not set at that time.

Drivers and bus monitors will be paid $12 an hour for any additional day trips outside of their route, including activity trips and driving shuttles. Drivers will also be paid $12 an hour to attend safety meetings, find new stops, call parents with bus times and while learning a new route.

Driver trainees will be paid $12 an hour and driver trainers will be paid $15 an hour. Bus drivers will be paid $192 for overnight trips (counting as 16 hours), and drivers will be reimbursed meals during these trips. Drivers will also be reimbursed for one-half of their commercial driver’s license and a $45 reimbursement for their annual physical.

Kinder said the district has a string of new applicants for bus driver positions – including 19 applicants over the past few weeks.

“The applicants are trickling in,” he said.

• The maintenance department was recognized for the work it has done over the summer, including construction projects at many of the school buildings. “These guys have touched nearly every single building in the district this year over the course of the summer,” Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder said.

Students will be able to see improvements made by the maintenance crew, led by Director of Maintenance James Aufdenberg, when the school year begins at most JR-2 schools.

The maintenance crew built a new vestibule at the entrance of Jackson Middle School, as well as two new offices and a new conference room. Kinder said visitors will now have to be “buzzed in” twice in order to enter the main part of the building, and the new conference room has its own exit so visitors won’t disrupt school learning.

The maintenance crew built new walls at East Elementary and the high school to add a new office at each school. The crew also installed new furniture, carpet and sheet rock walls to the Orchard Drive main office and library, as well as painted Orchard Drive’s cafeteria.

Two other safety projects completed by the maintenance department include a new sidewalk alongside the bus lane at the high school and expanding the entrance outside of North Elementary.

“During strategic planning meetings with some of the folks from North, they had expressed concerns about getting in and out, and we are trying to answer those concerns,” Kinder said. “We’ve worked with MoDOT and have improved visibility.”

In addition, the maintenance department built a new school sign for Millersville Elementary using bricks from the old high school “A” building, supervised and painted new blacktop for the West Lane Elementary playground and is installing new playground equipment at South Elementary.

The crew has also supervised and assisted Fronabarger Concreters in two projects in the district – expanding the Orchard Drive drop-off area and adding concrete under the JHS visitor football bleachers to stop erosion. Kinder said the district team has checked in with the projects daily and assisted in additional work, particularly at the football field.

“Fronabarger is doing the work, however, to make the lights work and to make the tech work, James and the rest of the guys have to step in when they get to certain points,” Kinder said.

Smith thanked the maintenance department, highlighting their quick response times and care for the safety of the school community.

“This crew is outstanding,” Smith said. “They make this district look good and they can do anything that comes their way. They save our district a ton of money with what they can do, but beyond the financial side – they want to do what’s best for our kids and if they see an issue, they make sure to get it fixed the right way.”

• The board approved the district’s special education compliance plan for the 2022-2023 school year. The district adopted the model compliance plan from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Historically, as a district, we have always opted to choose the DESE model compliance plan,” Special Education Director Christa Weber said. “We know that closely aligns with state and federal guidelines.”

Weber said the district has seen an increase in the overall number of special education students – with the district’s K-12 special education enrollment increasing from 600 students in 2020 to 705 students in 2022.

“I really think that goes along with our reputation of special education in the district,” Weber said. “We had 67 students who had IEPs [individualized education programs] that transferred to Jackson last year from surrounding districts. Often times when I call the families, they say they moved because of our special education programing.”

Weber said the early childhood special education enrollment numbers have slightly decreased due to changes in DESE’s special education speech criteria – with 115 early childhood students in the special education program in 2020 and 86 early childhood special education students last year.

Weber said many of those students who would have qualified for early childhood speech interventions are now being caught at higher-grade levels. She said they are also seeing an increase in specific learning disabilities in subjects like reading, writing and math due to the COVID-19 closure and virtual learning.

“We have needed to catch some kids up,” Weber said. “Hopefully that’s a short-lived increase, but it goes to show that we are doing the best we can to get kids the services they need.”

• The board approved setting the tuition rate for out-of-district students for the 2022-2023 school year at $9,117. This rate, which is primarily used for students who come to Jackson High School from the Nell Holcomb School District, is the same as last year.

• The board readopted the policy on board member conflicts of interest and financial disclosures. The board is required by the Missouri Ethics Commission to adopt the policy every other year. The policy has not changed since it was last adopted.

• A tax rate hearing was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 25, in the Jackson High School Ignite Center.

• The board approved a revised Missouri Securities Investment Program cooperative agreement to add Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy as an authorized officer with full power to access the account. MOSIP is an investment program for public funds.

• Kindergarten teachers and incoming kindergarten students at South Elementary presented about Kamp Kindergarten, an event held the night of Monday, Aug. 8, to help kindergarten students and their families learn more about their new school.

The students played in their classrooms while their parents attended an informational meeting. The families were able to tour the school, eat a snack in the cafeteria, play in the gym and ride a school bus. All elementary schools in the district hosted their own Kamp Kindergarten on Aug. 8.

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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