TEUTOPOLIS — Unit 50 Superintendent Matt Sturgeon is the latest to test positive for COVID-19 as the Teutopolis school district struggles to maintain in-person instruction.
Sturgeon, who is isolating at home and attended the school board’s meeting remotely Monday, tested positive over the weekend after losing his senses of taste and smell. He is unsure of where he contracted the virus.
“We have been pretty cautious based on what I do and my need to be available for students and staff,” he said Tuesday.
As of Thursday, five members of the district’s staff and 10 students have tested positive and 135 students and 12 staff are in quarantine. Despite those numbers, Sturgeon said Tuesday the Effingham County Health Department has not confirmed a single school-related transmission or indicated there’s an outbreak. Sturgeon noted those in quarantine can include family and community exposure to the virus, not just school contact.
The grade school and high school have been particularly impacted, which Sturgeon attributes to the larger size of the schools as compared to the junior high. Staff at those schools have been stretched thin, taking on extra duties while substitutes have been brought in from other communities.
“Even though stretched, we do have enough staff,” he said.
It’s all in the effort to continue in-person instruction.
“We would like to the keep doors open because it’s in the students’ best interests,” said Sturgeon.
Of the just over 1,000 student population, Sturgeon noted the majority of students are still able to maintain in-person instruction. Although the quarantine numbers are high, he said they are “out of abundance of caution so we can maintain health and safety of staff and keep doors open as long as possible.”
Sturgeon said the district and board continues to take guidance from the local health department and would pursue less-intrusive measures before closing the buildings and moving to all remote learning. Those include closing playgrounds, canceling non-essential activities, and minimization or elimination of gathering places before and after school and during lunch and recess.
“Assuming it is safe and we have the staff, we believe our community needs, interests are for us to remain open so as to avoid the potential undesirable academic, social-emotional, child care, economic and other implications of closure,” Sturgeon wrote to parents and the community in a letter on the district’s website.
During Monday’s meeting, Sturgeon announced Phase 2 of the district’s renovation project will be substantially completed by the end of the month. The phase includes demolition of the 1929 portion of the high school and renovation of locker rooms and public restrooms and newly constructed band room and guidance offices, as well as renovation of the wood shop and CAD lab.
The completion of Phase II marks the end of the district’s planned renovation project.
In other business, the board:
- Approved the tentative tax levy rate of 3.6571 for the 2020 tax year. That is a slight increase over the previous year. The money would be payable by taxpayers next fall.
- Reappointed Courtney Tegeler and Brian Meyer as board members and appointed Toby McMahon to replace the seat vacated by Leon Gobczynski. It was brought to the board’s attention last month Tegeler and Meyer had moved from their elected townships to other townships within the district. As per state statute and board policy, they resigned since no more than three individuals of a given township can be appointed to particular board.