For its first meeting of 2022, the Ketchikan School Board will consider a request to allow the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences to set its own COVID-19 mitigation plans to be more restrictive than the Ketchikan School District’s mitigation.
The board also will hold two executive sessions regarding a student disciplinary matter and labor negotiations with technology staff, and will return to discussions of a proposed change to its nondiscrimination policy.
TSAS mitigation request
TSAS’s Academic Policy Committee on Dec. 6 voted to request that it have autonomy from the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plans in order to follow either the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations, or the district’s policies, whichever is more restrictive. The board on Wednesday will consider approving that request.
TSAS is a charter school, and “charter schools are public schools in the State of Alaska subject to the policies and procedures of the District per contract and Alaska statute,“ the agenda explains. “However, the School Board may elect to waive certain policies or procedures. The District’s mitigation plan is considered District policy and procedure that should be applied to all schools, including the charters. In order for the charter school to amend these policies, a waiver is needed from the School Board.”
The agenda references state statute that indicates that “a local school baord may exempt a charter school from other local school district requirements if the exemption is set out in the contract.” TSAS’s contract with the district includes the stipulation that “any new or revised Tongass School policies must be approved by the School Board.”
The APC made its request after the district pursued its “Test to Stay” program, which allows unvaccinated close contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases to remain in school through daily testing, rather than quarantining, according to the minutes from that meeting.
Leading up to that vote, the APC observed that the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “does not recommend (that) testing be used in place of quarantine with known or suspected cases,” and that infected individuals can be contagious before they test positive for the virus, per the minutes.
The district is recommending approval of the request.
As its next item of new business, the board will consider approving the award of $384,051.20 in federal emergency relief funding to the district to help schools and libraries support remote learning, per the agenda.
“This program will provide reimbursement to the District for student Chromebook and Teacher machine purchases made prior to current in the amount of $236,143.20 and will further reimburse a planned purchase of additional machines this year in the amount of $147,908.00 for additional machine purchases,” the agenda explains. “This is a welcome award totaling $384,051.20 towards student and teacher equipment purchases.”
The money would come from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act passed last March.
Two executive sessions are on the meeting agenda.
First, the board will conduct an executive session “regarding a student disciplinary matter in which the Board is acting as an adjudicatory body performing a quasi-judicial function,” per the agenda.
In addition to its policy role, per board bylaws, “the Board, convened, shall serve as a body of appeal for grievances, complaints and criticisms in accordance with Board policies and negotiated employee agreements.”
The board can enter private executive sessions to discuss sensitive information. In the case of the disciplinary matter, Johnson confirmed in a Monday phone call that discussion meets the criterion in board bylaws of “(tending) to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion.”
An action is scheduled after the executive session, but Johnson did not confirm what the action would be.
“The action that the board will take is listening to the recommendation of the school district,” said Interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson. “I’m not going to give any details on (the district’s recommendation). The recommendation, from the school district’s standpoint, is confidential for a student.”
The board’s second scheduled executive session will allow it to have a discussion “regarding labor negotiations with the Technology Labor Staff Organization (TLSO).” An executive session is appropriate because “immediate knowledge” of the content of the discussion “would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the school district,” per the agenda.
One policy hearing is scheduled for the meeting, regarding a proposed change to the board’s nondiscrimination policy.
The board Policy Committee has recommended adding to that policy that district employees shall not “retaliate against” employees or job applicants; the current policy only states that they shall not “discriminate against” or “harass” employees or applicants. The revision also would add that “status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking” should not be a basis for discrimination in the district.
The board unanimously approved the nondiscrimination policy in first reading at its last meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers at 1900 First Ave. There will be time for public comment near the start of the meeting.