School Board meets online to discuss pandemic-related issues

By Ruthann Carr

Vowing to deal only with time-sensitive and pandemic-related issues, the Fluvanna School Board met remotely Tuesday (April 7).

Covid-19 cut short the 2020 school year causing food, education, sports, extracurricular activity and Internet connection problems.

Public schools are charged with making education accessible to all.

Students who don’t have computers or online access can’t do “distance learning.”

Connection issues played out during the meeting.

Two school board members, Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia), who represent the most remote, rural areas of Fluvanna, experienced access problems.

Pullen’s video connection was spotty and he finished the meeting using the audio from his cell phone.

Rittenhouse accessed the meeting via a phone connection at the school administration building.

Superintendent Chuck Winkler announced some decisions about grades.

“For the most part, students will get a combination of three-quarter grade or pass/fail,” Winkler said. “If the student is failing they have an option of doing work to bring up the grade. Anyone with an A, that will be recorded.”

Teachers are putting together learning packets geared to keeping skills sharp, and not introducing new learning.

Winkler said students who need Chrome books should call their school. They’ll make arrangements to pick one up or take one to students with no transportation.

Students with connectivity problems can access the Internet outside any of the school buildings.

Details on how to do that can be found through the school website, Facebook or by calling the school, Winkler said.

While no firm decision has been made regarding end-of-year sports, prom and graduation, they are considering:

  • Sports – once the social distancing orders are lifted, having a final game or meet in each sport, even if it is just among Fluvanna students. There is some talk statewide of giving students one extra year of eligibility.
  • Prom/Graduation – current thought is possibly holding prom and graduation on the same weekend as Homecoming

“We have not cancelled graduation. We have postponed it,” Winkler said. “We may align it next year with Homecoming. We could have Homecoming and Prom then graduation on Saturday.”

Students will be missing about three to six weeks of new instruction. Because of inequity in access, the school can’t do distance learning so that instruction must be made up somehow.

One way to get it back would be to extend next year’s instructional days to pick up learning gaps. They’ve made no final decision on that.

Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) urged Winkler to consult with the calendar committee.

Through a needs assessment Winkler said they found about 40 people who needed child care.

A couple local businesses have offered to help a few of those children, but public schools won’t open to provide childcare.

Winkler said they’ve been offering meals for pick-up since the second day of school closure. That distribution continues but is now available to any Fluvanna family in need.

James Kelley (Palmyra) said: “To me it’s the number one priority to make sure those who are in need aren’t doing without. Thank you for doing that.”

Concerning this year’s school budget, Winkler said he expects less sales tax revenue. There is enough money to pay staff throughout the year.

The Board voted 4-1 (Johnson against) to pay all contracted hourly and assignment employees in full including spring coaches and long-term subs who’ve been given a letter of assignment.

Johnson said she voted against the motion because she wanted to pay coaches at half their rate because their work is extracurricular.

The FY2021 budget is now down to $43,230,198 because of a nearly $300,000 reduction in local funding. Winkler said after holding employees harmless in health care costs since FY2015, increases next year are inevitable.

“We’re looking at 15% cost increase,” he said. “We have no choice but to raise rates. If we picked it all up it would add $1 million (to the budget).”

Keeping the same provider, BPA, starting July 2020, a single employee with the $500 deductible plan would see their monthly premium rise from $53 to $74.16. Family coverage for the same plan would go from $743 per month to $877.41.

The Board approved the health insurance rate sheet 4-0. Kelley was not present for the vote.

They also approved the Virginia School Board Association policy services agreement 4-1; Pullen against.

Pullen abstained from approving World Languages textbooks. It passed 4-0.

They approved the Special Education Annual and Career and Technical Education annual plans 4-0; Pullen abstained.

In final comments Pullen stressed the Board’s obligation to seniors for “not just graduation but anything they may miss because of the pandemic: proms, games, ceremonies. We want to make sure we do everything within our power to fulfill our obligation to them.”

All board members agreed.

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) thanked the staff for “all the work they’re doing during the troubling times for our community, especially feeding our families.”

Rittenhouse said, “I’ve been here almost 50 years and nothing has ever affected public education like this but I know we’ll get through it.”

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