Fairfield Area School District has increased its safety measures in an attempt to reduce transmission of the coronavirus as the district has experienced a significant increase in positive cases this year.
During the school board’s meeting on Monday evening, Kristi Ebaugh, the district school nurse, said well over half of the district’s positive cases this school year have occurred in only one and a half months.
There were 170 known cases during the first six weeks of the year compared to 101 cases in the 17 weeks from Aug. 26 through Dec. 24, 2021. Ebaugh said that in the first two weeks of February, there were 10 cases each week.
Superintendent Thomas Haupt said he, members of the administration and Ebaugh all reviewed the district’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see where the district can improve.
Haupt said a mask mandate is still in effect for public transportation, including school buses. The district tries to keep students distanced by at least three feet to reduce transmission of the virus. Haupt said the district bought Plexiglass for the elementary school last year but it wasn’t being used. It has now been installed in a classroom as well as the library.
At one point, school buses were sanitized each day but the schedule had been reduced. Haupt said the sanitizing schedule has been increased to a daily once again. Among other safety measures, middle school students also clean their Chromebooks before they use them.
“I think we have good practices in place,” Haupt said. “We certainly have layered practices in place, and I think are really in good alignment with what the CDC is recommending, even with their update as of Jan. 13.”
The district is still working on hiring more custodians, according to William Mooney, the district’s building and grounds director.
In January, Mooney told the board he hoped to have two custodians hired pending board approval this month.
But on Monday, Mooney said one candidate turned down interviews and the other had not responded to a request for a second interview. Mooney said he has begun the process of interviewing two additional candidates and hopes to be able to seek board approval for them soon.
Board member Richard Phillip asked if the district could hire students to help. Haupt said the district can consider the idea and seek legal counsel, though he noted that it is easier to make it work during the summer than during the school year.
The board also accepted a handful of resignations, including those of Thomas Weaver, the district’s business manager, and Daniel Watkins, the special education supervisor.
Weaver’s resignation will be take place on or by April 1 while Watkins will leave on June 30.
“I just wanted to say on behalf of myself and, I hope, the rest of the district, thank you for your service with us and we appreciate everything you guys have done,” Phillip said.
Weaver said his office is currently working on the district’s budget. He anticipates the business office will present a budget to the board sometime in April.
The board also plans to review a course selection handbook when it is submitted for approval. Brian McDowell, principal of Fairfield Area High School, said the document should be ready for the next meeting.
During the time for public comment, three individuals spoke. Two voiced dissatisfaction with the mask policy and the third said she felt people too easily fear COVID-19 when symptoms can occur for other reasons. She requested the board accept negative home COVID-19 test results for children to return to school.
Members of the community who have not had a chance to meet the new superintendent will have the opportunity to soon. Haupt said he plans to hold a meet and greet from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23 at the Fairfield Fire Hall.
“It’s really a way for me to start to meet members of the community, them to begin to meet me, and really, we also have several new members of our administrative team, so I’ve asked them to join in this,” Haupt said.
Invitations for the event were designed by district students.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28 in the district board room. Meetings are also livestreamed on YouTube.
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.