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July 26, 2021, SSD200 Board meeting

The Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education met Monday, July 26, for its regular monthly meeting in the Heckart Performing Arts Center at Smith-Cotton High School. All board members were in attendance in person and the meeting was live streamed.

In discussions about the Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan (SRCSP), Superintendent Steve Triplett and the board agreed to host a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 16, to discuss the increase in positive COVID-19 cases and its possible impact on the return to school. 

Triplett said the SRCSP will be discussed at each board meeting for the foreseeable future and that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state government both have put an emphasis on returning to in-person instruction. He said it is the district’s responsibility to make that happen while ensuring student and staff safety. Triplett will meet with Pettis County Health Director JoAnne Martin and area superintendents on Tuesday, July 27, to discuss county health data. 

Assistant Superintendent Jason Curry shared current state and county data and noted that positive COVID-19 cases were reported in the Smith-Cotton High School cheerleading and football programs over the past week, putting a halt to activities in both groups. 

Responding to a question from Board Vice President Scott Gardner, Triplett said federal COVID compensation ran out in December and the board’s extension of the paid time off for those out due to COVID-19 expired in June, so this school year staff members who miss work due to positive COVID-19 results will have to use their sick leave. 

Noting that less than 30 percent of Pettis County residents have been vaccinated and that a survey in the spring showed less than 35 percent of district families were in favor of a mask mandate, Triplett said, “We need to be aware of where our community stands.” He reiterated that contact tracing and quarantine rules from the state remain unchanged, so if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID, close contacts who are unvaccinated or who were not wearing a mask will have to quarantine, while those masked and/or vaccinated will not.

Regarding returning to in-person classes without a mask mandate, Triplett said, “I’m all for giving it a try, but we need to understand that with the positivity rate, I’m not sure how long we could do in-person school.”

A mother of two students who have been in virtual classes since March 2020 said she was impressed with the effectiveness of the mask protocols last school year and her children were looking forward to coming back to in-person schooling, but the county’s rising positive cases have them scared. She asked the board to reinstate the mask mandate.

Board Director Matthew Herren said people contacting him are adamantly opposed to a return to masking. He also said the district’s 2021-22 budget projects a $2 million deficit and bringing back a mask mandate would cause enrollment to plummet.

Another mother of two students thanked the board for being open-minded but added that if masks are not optional, her children will remain at home this year.

Triplett said if the school year starts without a mask mandate, it does not mean the district would not switch to a mandate should conditions warrant it. 

A district father who opposes mandatory masks asked for clarification on staff quarantine rules and pay.

A third mother of two students addressed the board; one of her children is an incoming kindergartner diagnosed with cancer, so she is immunocompromised. The speaker urged the board to make its decision based on the health and safety of all students and acknowledged that board members and administrators had been verbally attacked regarding the mask mandate last school year. She asked the community to be kind to the board and to other parents, and for the board to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The board approved changing the start time for Smith-Cotton High School Commencement from 7 pm to 5 pm. The change will allow families to host graduation activities before their students participate in Project Graduation events. 

Vacation accrual for support staff members also was approved. This serves as an enticement to recruit and retain full-year employees in these categories. At the completion of one year of service, these employees will earn two weeks of paid vacation time; after five  years, they will get four weeks of vacation. Previously, these employees had to work 20 years to earn four weeks of vacation time.

The board directed Assistant Superintendent Dr. Todd Fraley to seek bids for an automated floor scrubber for Smith-Cotton High School. Herren and Board Secretary Barbara Schrader urged Fraley to request borrowing an automated unit to check its effectiveness. Fraley said the autonomous scrubber could save the district a custodial employee position, and that purchase of the scrubber could come from federal ESSER III funds. Board Director Michael Stees noted that the autonomous unit also could free up workers to do more deep cleaning of high-touch surfaces.

Also Monday:

-- The tax rate hearing was set for 6:15 pm Aug. 23, prior to the regular August board meeting. 

-- The district tuition rate for 2021-22 was set at $8,867.68, using the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education calculator. It is the rate paid by those living outside district boundaries to attend Sedalia 200 schools. 

-- The board approved the Gifted/REACH Program and Special Education Program evaluations. Triplett praised Gifted/REACH program teacher Barbara Todd for her leadership. There are almost 800 students in the Special Education Program, with 13.36 percent of all district students qualifying for services; that percentage is just below the state average, but the district’s percentage is increasing. 

-- Two nominees for the Smith-Cotton Athletic Hall of Fame, Mike Riley and Soloman Watkins, and one nominee for the Activities Hall, Samuel Stokes, were approved for induction during the 2021-22 school year.

--  The assessment manual for the 2021-22 school year was approved with no changes from the previous school year other than the calendar, as was the Professional Development Manual, which has new building-level goals.

-- The board discussed district membership in WeMET, a consortium that assists with development and implementation of educational programs, specifically with dual credit courses. The consortium is based at the University of Central Missouri. Smith-Cotton High Principal Wade Norton said joining WeMET opens the entire UCM catalog to S-C students.

-- The purchase of a vehicle to be used by the district’s director of Safety and Security was discussed. Options from the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s fleet surplus are being considered.

-- Per diem rates for the 2021-2022 school year will remain at the rates used in the 2020-2021 school year (meals at $40 per day and mileage at 54 cents per mile).

-- The board acknowledged a donation from Lowe’s of cleaning and sanitization supplies.