Photo credit to: ACDL
By: Lisa Bicknell
Dealing with the latest surge of the coronavirus continues to be a challenge for the Estill County Board of Education.
The school board decided, after lengthy discussion, to move forward with a Covid testing contract with the same testing laboratory used by the Estill County Health Department.
“Test to stay” is now part of the state legislature’s plan to deal with the pandemic as the legislature passed new guidelines during a special session called by Gov. Andy Beshear last week.
Within the next few days, school districts will be receiving guidance on the program, which will allow unvaccinated students and staff who have had contact with infected individuals to test daily for five days. If they test negative, they will stay in school instead of quarantining.
Donna Isfort, school board chair, pointed out that the incubation period for the virus is typically three to seven days and that it is not recommended by the Center of Disease Control to test immediately after exposure because of the extended incubation period.
Isfort also expressed concern about the work load that testing would add to teachers, staff and nurses in school.
She said it is already difficult for teachers to teach, because they are spending a lot of their time attempting to trace contacts.
Superintendent Jeff Saylor noted that the number of cases in school have gone down, and the number of quarantines have also gone down because “we are wearing masks.”
Although the legislative session passed a bill to end school mask mandates, local superintendents have the authority to require them. Superintendent Saylor made it clear that the Estill County School District will continue to require masks to be worn as long as numbers of positive cases remain high in the community.
The board did ultimately approve contracting with the Covid testing company, but Isfort, a nurse-practitioner, said she believes some consideration should be given, some medical direction sought, and some protocols put in place.
Isfort said the testing company would provide a specimen collector and that “they are making big money off this.”
She added that the testing will not cost the school anything and the school will not profit from it.
Superintendent Saylor said that the “biggest uproar” from the public currently is because many kids have been placed in quarantine, some as many as three times.
The board voted to reduce spring break to two days and allow students and staff to take a full fall break.
This decision was made with results of a community survey in mind, with most parents and caregivers saying they don’t want kids to go to school late next summer, and they don’t want to reduce Christmas break.
The district will then have a total of 18 possible make up days, counting the original allotted ten NTI days and five staff days, that could be used in case of the school being closed for illness or weather.
The superintendent also announced that there will be upcoming vaccination clinics at the high school, middle school and at Marcum and Wallace Hospital.
Peter Fisher, with Ross Tarrant, said that work is continuing to progress at the baseball and softball fields. Tennis court renovations are also underway.
The board approved the initial plan, a BG1, for the high school HVAC controls project. It will be paid for from ESSER III funds, at a projected cost of $462,500. The heat and air system will be controlled remotely, but teachers will retain control of the thermostat in classrooms within a three degree range.
The board approved the BG1 for a replacement of a sewer line at the high school at an estimated project cost of $159, 925, also using ESSER III funds.
In addition, the board approved initial plans for 76 additional parking spaces in the West Irvine parking lot. Including the site survey and the installation of connecting sidewalks and stairs, the project is expected to cost about $449,850. That project will be paid for from capital outlay funds, which was set aside for facilities.
The board approved window replacements and safety upgrades at South Irvine Elementary, which will likely be paid for from ESSER III funds.
Those funds, part of the American Rescue Plan, will be approved in September. Superintendent Saylor said work at South Irvine could begin before Memorial Day next year, giving a 12 to 14 week window of time for the project.
There was much discussion about the proposed renovation project at Estill Springs. Two options were considered, including adding a new media center, which would free up space and allow for the construction of four additional classrooms plus door hardware upgrades and the replacement of bleachers and gym flooring.
The second option would be to build two additional classrooms, plus install new door safety hardware and replace bleachers and flooring.
The first option would cost nearly three million dollars, whereas the second option would cost just over a million. Either option would involve tearing down the old Irvine High school, but the second option does not figure in the cost of demolition.
Board chair Donna Isfort had concerns about whether or not traffic flow at Estill Springs would be improved.
Superintendent Saylor said that a lot of the traffic problem is the size of Irvine city streets.
Isfort insisted, “If we are going to tear down Irvine high, we should work it for our benefit….to see if there is something we can do to help traffic.”
Several options were considered, and Peter Fisher agreed to create more design options for consideration.
Isfort noted that the principals of Estill Springs may also have some thoughts about the parking issue.
The board ultimately decided to go with option 1, four additional classrooms with a new media center, with different design options to be considered.
The board also approved middle school restroom renovations at a cost estimate of about $600,000, to be paid for from ESSER funds. That would include all the restrooms in the school and in locker rooms, as well as safety upgrades.
The next Board of Education meeting will be a special called one on September 23 at 6 p.m.