Sukut and Thogersen

Superintendent Brent Sukut (left) discusses plans for safely reopening schools as Sidney Public Schools Board of Trustees Chairman Ben Thogersen (right) listens.

The Sidney School Board on July 27 unanimously approved a proposal to purchase 650 Chromebooks to accommodate one-to-one teaching of students.

Superintendent Brent Sukut said the cost to purchase the 14-inch, touchscreen Chromebooks is $211,500, which includes the $26 license fee attached to each of the 650 notebook computers.

Despite the steep price, Sukut, along with Sidney School Board Chairman Ben Thogersen and the board, agreed this is the cheapest and best option for students.

“That would cover the 1,300 kids that we have in the district, with what we already have,” Sukut said.

Now that the school board has approved the purchase of 650 Chromebooks, they must apply for a bid to purchase them. The bid process is expected to take a few weeks. To purchase the Chromebooks, Sukut said the district would use federal funding it received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as well as money received from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Because some students chose to stay home and not attend school in person, and in the event the school has to shut down due to cases of COVID-19 in the schools, the computer purchases would be necessary for students to effectively learn, which falls under the CARES Act, according to the school board.

Funding from the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Relief Fund will also be used to clean and disinfect schools, as well as other precautions.

The purchase of the Chromebooks allows students and teachers to connect and use the services offered by Google Classroom and Google Suite, Sukut said.

“You typically are going to get four to six years out of a chromebook,” Sukut said. “So if we’re figuring approximately 1,200 of those, we’d have to cycle them out, 200 every year, to get to our 1,200 at that six-year mark.”

The cost to replace 200 Chromebooks currently is roughly $65,000, a figure that could change on a yearly basis, Sukut added. The figure also assumes the district will continue one-to-one learning with every single student. However, if some teachers do not utilize the Chromebooks as much as others, that cost would go down.

The board also approved the 2020–21 school opening comprehensive plan, which contains guidelines for safe learning in the schools.

Sukut said that while maintaining social distancing is challenging during the school day, administration and staff have looked at what they can do. He said that in one of the high school math classrooms, it was possible to fit 23 desks, using the distancing guidelines.

One problem that may arise, though, is in the case of elementary classrooms, where there are more kids and social distancing may not be fully carried out.

In the event that social distancing cannot be maintained, Sukut said masks are not required, but are highly recommended.

“Making 5 and 6-year-olds wear a mask all day is tough,” he added.

In the event of a confirmed positive-tested COVID-19 case in one of the schools, Sukut said the health department doesn’t plan to shut down the school; it depends on the case.

If there is only one positive case in the high school, for instance, the school may not shut down, provided there are no other cases. However, the school would take the necessary precautions to disinfect and keep the other students safe.

Sukut added the school will have contact logs, showing where the students sit and have been throughout the day, which may be used by the county health department if necessary for testing and contact tracing.

If there are multiple positive results of COVID-19, but all are from students in one school, that school might shut down while other schools could stay open. Staff would clean and disinfect that school before students are allowed back in for learning.

Sukut said if a student has multiple symptoms of coronavirus, they have to go home and stay home for 14 days.

In a perfect world, he added, a student with symptoms goes home, the family contacts the health department and the department gets back to the school. However, the district has to be careful not to violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Thogersen asked at what point the school would get shut down, pointing out students may be asymptomatic while attending school all week and that a lot of students and activities would be affected.

Sukut said there is no magic number that defines when to shut down. If there are 20 cases, the superintendent said, the school would likely automatically shut down; however, the health department has indicated it would decide on a case-by-case basis.

Other Actions

The board approved an emergency declaration, which included proficiency-based learning and the adoption of 1900 series emergency policies. The proficiency-based learning will require students be graded by letters and have GPAs. This past year, Sukut noted, the school adopted a pass or fail system, which hurt some students.

The 1900 series is a protection for the district, in case it has to go to off-site learning. A lot of its funding is based on hours, so there are provisions in the 1900 series to protect everybody if they cannot meet in-person.

The board approved a fee increase for DragonFly, the service the district uses for student accounts and fees. Now, every time a student or parent makes a transaction, the district gets charged a $3 fee.

Plans for students who opt out of in-person learning were also discussed. Sukut mentioned the school has to provide services for students who prefer off-site learning. He said the number of kids who prefer off-site learning seems to be increasing.

“The one thing though that we did find last year is some parents and some students actually liked the digital platform off-site better than the on-site,” Sukut said, adding some students may have a compromised immune system or have safety concerns that necessitates staying home.

The new Chromebooks would help with off-site learning, and Sukut said the current plan is to have students who are at home on the same schedule for learning as they would be if they were on-site.

The board also agreed on a policy that if a student chooses to opt out, they cannot participate in other school activities including, presumably, sports.

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