Northeast Indiana school districts are adding to their superintendents’ powers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23, both Northwest Allen County Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools approved resolutions to allow their respective superintendents to take certain actions in the event of a pandemic-related emergency like the one Indiana currently faces.
With the passage of Northwest Allen County Schools’ resolution, Superintendent Chris Himsel may close any or all schools, or district offices, or dismiss them early in the event of an emergency. The superintendent will only take action after consulting with transportation, emergency management, health and other agencies necessitated by the circumstances, the resolution states. The resolution is set to expire at the end of the 2019-20 school year. The resolution can be rescinded any time the board determines doing so would be in the best interest of schools.
In the case of a pandemic-related emergency, the school board will authorize continued wage payments to employees, salaried and not salaried, who are told by the superintendent not to report to work, as long as the school receives confirmation from the Indiana Department of Education that the missed work days will not be required to be made up at a later date and the school does not intend to make them up. Any wages paid during an emergency closure will be limited to an employee’s base pay and will not include payment for other missed opportunities, such as overtime. This applies only to closures, not absences related to an employee’s own health, Himsel said.
“This will avoid having our employees have to go out and seek unemployment claims, because they will be compensated as long as they continue to report for duty as long as requested, and/or (schools) continue to stay closed,” Board of School Trustees President Kent Somers said.
Himsel said the district plans to “go back to a skeleton staff,” encouraging as many employees as possible to stay home, as directed by Gov. Eric Holcomb. Several district employees are currently on rotating schedules “so that we have backup plans in case our employees get sick, but also to make sure our buildings are well taken care of, children are being fed, needs of students are being met.”
Almost every employee group had individuals still working March 23. The district scaled back on custodial staff the following day. However, there are still individuals in schools to address maintenance needs.
“We also have to have a full staff when the order ends and we need to return to school, so we need to limit exposure of our staff while still maintaining the bare minimum functions throughout the school corporation,” Himsel said.
The Fort Wayne Community Schools Board of School Trustees approved a resolution March 23 granting the superintendent the ability to “carry out any action deemed necessary for the safety and well-being of the school community during the closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The resolution includes the authorization to continue paychecks for employees.
During the meeting, FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson also outlined ways in which the district is prioritizing learning opportunities, despite not having e-learning like neighboring school districts.
FWCS’ Curriculum Department will provide learning activities, and teachers will interact with students through the district’s learning management system — a platform that students already use in the classroom. Each week, FWCS will share updates on what work students would have been completing if they were in the classroom.
Seniors needing credit in various classes in order to graduate have been enrolled in Edgenuity online courses. Students will take a pre-test to determine the specific standards to be mastered and will work at their own pace. Seniors needing to complete dual credit, Advanced Placement and career and technical education courses for a specific certification will be supported by teachers using the district’s learning management system or PowerSchool. Some seniors must earn credit in unique courses that fit the state’s graduation pathways but are not offered by Edgenuity. FWCS teachers will also support these individuals through the LMS.
FWCS will continue to serve meals 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to students at all elementary schools and early childhood centers. Additional information, including learning resources, is available on FWCS’ website, FWCS.info/COVID19.
Like NACS’ March 23 board meeting, FWCS board members practiced social distancing. The meetings were closed to the public and streamed online.