Posted Date: 02/15/2022
Board Approves Revised Coronavirus Response Plan
The Board of Education approved a recommendation to update the “Safe Return and Continuity of Services Plan,” which deals with the district’s response to COVID-19 at Union Public Schools. The federal government requires revisiting the plan every six months as a requirement for accepting Covid relief funds.
The main change to the plan concerns the reduction of the length of quarantine from ten to five days for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, in keeping with the CDC’s updated guidance.
The new process, in full, for those who test positive for COVID is as follows:
While the Board had promised to reexamine the mask requirement after voting to retain it in December, they decided it was not the time to do that given the district’s skyrocketing Covid numbers. The district reached an all-time high of Covid-positive cases on Tuesday, January 18, with 188 staff and 302 students who are isolation due to Covid.
“Thank you for your prescience in recommending keeping the masks,” said Board Member Ken Kinnear (Zone 5) of Dr. Chris McNeil, Zone 2. “I am pretty good at analyzing data and looking at the trends. Hats off to you for taking the stand that you did.”
Superintendent Addresses Pivots to Distance And In-Person Learning
Just two hours prior to the Board meeting, Union announced it would begin transitioning some school sites back to in-person learning on Thursday, January 20, based on the ability to appropriately staff.
After two days of distance learning districtwide this week (Jan. 17-21) due to spiking Covid numbers, these nine schools will go back to in-person learning: Cedar Ridge, Clark, McAuliffe and Peters Elementary and the Rosa Parks Early Childhood Education Center, as well as the Union 8th Grade, the Union High School Freshman Academy, the High School and Union Alternative School. Union will look at making other schools in-person next week. Also, it was announced that there would be no transportation for grades 10-12 on Thursday and Friday, including Union Alternative School, due to a severe shortage of bus drivers.
“These are very difficult decisions to make,” said Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler. “As we can all agree, our kids need to be in school, as that is where the most effective learning takes place. Certainly, the last several weeks have presented us with numerous challenges. It all boils down to having adequate staffing to safely have in-person school. It has nothing at all to do with ‘being afraid of Covid,’ which is a statement that was made last week from the State Capitol. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we have done everything in our power to keep schools open. We tried to keep all of our elementaries open last week, recognizing that we need to preserve in-person learning as much as possible for them. We asked people throughout our district to go to elementary sites. We have had administrators and Cabinet members serving in elementary classrooms, from grade K-5, trying to fill unfilled classrooms.
“I am humbled to be part of a team that says, ‘I’m ready to do whatever it takes.’ Unfortunately, we sometimes reach a point where it’s unsustainable.”
Hartzler praised Human Resources for doing yeoman’s work. “Jay [Loegering] and his team have done an incredible job. They are never off, even on weekends. On Thursday, we will reevaluate our ability to adequately staff. My hope is that the remainder of these schools can be back in school on Monday.”
Union Plans to Accept State Employees Serving as Classroom Substitutes
As Governor Kevin Stitt signed an executive order encouraging state employees to serve as substitute teachers due to the recent Covid-19 surge, Union says it has a plan to quickly place these volunteers in the classroom. Stitt has directed state agencies to create mechanisms for state employees to substitute teach. State employees would not be paid a substitute teaching rate but would be paid by their respective agencies. Oklahoma has 32,000 state employees, according to the governor. The order is effective for 120 days.
“We will graciously accept these volunteers, as we have done everything in our power to keep classrooms open,” said Hartzler. “We’ve streamlined our on-boarding process to enable us to have a volunteer in the classroom within one day of signing up. We will use the Raptor program to vet these volunteers – a program we already have in place – so we can ensure the safety of our children. My office eagerly awaits to hear from these volunteers. We just have to hope that this most recent surge will peak at some point in time, sooner rather than later.”
All volunteers will need to undergo a background check. There is a sex offender check as well, which can be performed using Raptor.
Hartzler said he’s been informed by Dr. Dale Bratzler of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Public Health that Oklahoma might start seeing the peak in Covid numbers sometime this week, “and that it should then drop precipitously.”
“I think there is still a very acute teacher shortage in Oklahoma and a staffing shortage that we will continue to have to deal with,” said Hartzler. “We need to continue to pay our teachers at a very competitive rate. I want to be #1 in teacher pay. Our support staff are also extremely important to our wellbeing. We’ve never seen such a shortage of support service workers that we are experiencing right now.”
According to Associate Superintendent Charlie Bushyhead, Union has about 20 percent of Support Services open as of this writing. “Four out of 10 child nutrition workers are not in place.”
Board Accepts Bids on Planned Indoor Golf Practice Room
The Board of Education accepted a bid from Key Construction for a new golf facility interior practice area for $726,354.
The new golf interior practice facility will reside at the Freshman Academy weight training area, explained Fred Isaacs director of Construction Services. As part of the project, the weight training area will be moved and reestablished on the upper mezzanine of the main gym. The new practice room would include an indoor turf putting area, three indoor instructional hitting bays, and one golf course simulation hitting bay. Also included in the work is new lighting, HVAC ducting, and general construction improvements to the area.
Board Approves $2,000 Signing Bonus for Extended Day Employees
Board members approved an agreement between Union and the Union Support Employees Association to provide $2,000 sign-on bonuses for Extended Day employees.
Union received additional grant funding from the Department of Human Services which will assist in the recruiting, retention, and training of difficult to fill school staff positions. This money will be made available to the district for the 2021-2022 school year.
Union Public Schools and the Union Support Personnel Association have agreed to make available signing bonuses for Extended Day workers who are not classified under the current contract language. This signing bonus will be available only during the duration of this project.