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Esky school board reconfirms its COVID-19 learning plan

ESCANABA — The Escanaba School Board has reconfirmed its current Extended COVID-19 Learning plan. The plan determines how the district will provide education to students, through in-person, streaming or hybrid education models. Having an ECOL is required in order to receive state aid for the 2020-2021 school year.

At its monthly meetings, the board reviews the the past month’s plan and either reconfirms the plan going forward or makes changes to it, as necessary. The current plan makes full time in-person instruction available to every student, while also streaming every class every day for students who prefer to continue learning remotely. Superintendent Coby Fletcher said due to low COVID-19 rates and high attendance rates (over 98%), he does not recommend any changes to the ECOL at this time. He believes the additional attendance guidelines recently set forth by the district have contributed to the high attendance rate.

In other communication items, the board approved a letter of understanding (LOU) between the district and the Escanaba Education Association that solidifies the provision of a teacher stipend in recognition of the extra workload placed on teachers who must now stream every class while also teaching in person.

When the district first went hybrid, a shortened Friday class schedule allowed teachers three hours of planning time per week. Now that the district is back to full time instruction, the teachers no longer have the three hour window for planning, but are still required to stream every hour every day.

To determine compensation for the extra time teachers must now put in, the board took the equivalent of three hours of planning time and multiplied it out through the end of the year. The result was a stipend of $1,275 per teacher, prorated based on the number of classes a teacher is streaming.

The total amount for the stipend payments — approximately $55,000 — would come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II Fund passed in December 2020.

“We work hard to maintain a great working relationship with the Escanaba Education Association, and this letter of understanding represents a reasonable, well-structured agreement that allows the district to give our families flexibility in how instruction is provided at the secondary level,” said Fletcher.

The superintendent also said in order to ensure streaming students participate in classes at the same level as in person students, the board has given teachers additional expectations for student monitoring. These include requiring students to stay signed in for the entire class period, providing sub-lesson plans and instructions as necessary for streaming students, keeping streams open throughout classes and installing a Chrome extension that allows the district to track when students log in and out.

Fletcher noted the Chrome extension requirement came about after receiving inquiries from parents as to how the school knows students are staying in streaming classes for the required time period.

In other board business, ­the board nominated Brad Baltensperger as the district’s Region I representative to the Michigan Association of School Boards Board of Directors, which provides governance to the organization. Baltensperger has served on the Houghton-Portage Township School Board since 1988. He currently chairs the Negotiations Committee and serves on the Finance and School Improvement Committees. A past president of the MASB, Baltensperger also helped establish the Copper Country Association of School Boards.

In facilities, the board approved purchases of two new school buses for $184,317. The new purchases would keep the fleet up-to-date by moving the two oldest buses in the active fleet into the district’s subfleet; the two oldest buses in the subfleet would then be auctioned off. The purchases will be made in cash, saving the district about $10,000, according to Fletcher.

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