By Wanda Hanson
The Houston School Board started off its July 16, 2020, meeting with this simple observation by Superintendent Kim Abraham as she updated the board on the COVID-19 situation. Abraham had attended a news conference that day, but many questions will be waiting to be answered until after Governor Walz’s presentation scheduled for July 27. In their in person meeting, the board demonstrated safe COVID-19 procedures. All in attendance wore masks, with the advised six-foot distancing maintained.
Abraham told the board that the school would still be held to a minimum number of hours of school. If the district needs to change between plans for at school, online, or hybrid, they would have one day to do so. This day would not count toward the required minimum 1,020 hours.
There are some human resource questions to resolve as well. Paraprofessionals will not be able to be assigned to food services as they were last spring.
Attendance for distance learning would follow similar requirements as online learning. Each teacher will take attendance based on whether the student logged on and interacted with the teacher. Non-public schools do not have to follow the MDE regulations—only public and charter schools are under their jurisdiction.
MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) has created and shared a “make a plan” template for families to use as they talk through the “what ifs” of COVID-19. Once a decision has been made for the starting scenario, parents will received detailed communication from the school.
Abraham went on to share that the administration met with the paraprofessionals, the high school staff and the elementary staff. She noted that the staff was very “tentative” for scenario 2 (the hybrid version). By July 21, the hope is to have scenario 2 for Houston Schools decided on. Abraham shared that the teachers are very creative; an entirely new scenario 2 came out of Monday’s faculty meeting.
Masks, a new item on everyone’s back to school list, are on their way! Masks will be a requirement for both scenario 1 and 2 (in school and hybrid). Abraham shared that each staff member will be supplied with three masks and a face shield. Teachers will use the shields especially while teaching phonics and reading to younger students. Each student will also receive a school issued mask. School colors — red with white trim — will supply some school spirit.
Internet accessibility will be checked into. Some families had issues with internet in the spring. Families will be called to make sure the issues are taken care of.
Yet another concern during this time is the availability of substitute teachers. Houston Schools will be using Teachers On Call. Abraham noted that the subs from there are trained to do online learning. She also reminded the board the MNVA online subs were also an option.
Reporting on data for MNVA, Abraham pointed out to the board that current MNVA enrollment was higher at this time than usual and was likely to increase once parents hear from Gov. Walz and begin making decisions for the school year.
The board approved an MOU (memorandum of understanding) for fall sports coaches. Due to the “tentative nature of sports” at this time, this MOU will allow payment for coaches based on how much they coach this fall. If sports were to be canceled, coaches would be paid for the time they actually coached. Last spring, since the contracts had been signed, all coaches were paid in full. The teachers’ union will need to approve the MOU as well.
In other action, the board passed a resolution commending visual arts teacher Deb Sobeck for her 32 years of service to Houston, approved continuing membership in SEMNET, Southeast Services Cooperative, SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating and Southeast Library Systems), and HVED (Hiawatha Valley Education District); approved purchase of a walk-in cooler, signed contracts with Michael Managan, high school principal; Gary Shields, high school science teacher; and Travis Frank, P.E. teacher.