Southwest Allen County Schools deals with COVID-19

School board member Meagan Milne participates via video conference for the March 17 Southwest Allen County Schools board meeting. She was not sick but practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southwest Allen County Schools decided to make one major adjustment to its March 17 school board meeting due to coronavirus recommendations.

School board member Meagan Milne was not physically at the meeting, but she was virtually participating through a video conference.

“The governor, about an hour and a half ago, gave permission for there to be virtual meetings as long as one member is (physically) present,” SACS Superintendent Philip Downs said. “The other members may virtually join in and still vote.”

Milne said the reason for opting to participate via video chat is because two of her children are home from college. She did not want to risk attending in case they were exposed but not showing symptoms.

The layout of the meeting was different from usual as well. The tables were spread apart instead of being close together, and the rows of chairs for people to observe the meeting were removed aside from a few.

The school district closed all schools and began eLearning March 16. One item on the agenda addressed extending employee benefits due to this extended closure.

School Board President Tom Rhoades was proud of how the school handled the closing.

“I was proud of the leadership that Southwest Allen took in the county to really drive home I think the very important point that we couldn’t wait for our first case to make a decision,” Rhoades said. “The decisions we make in this respect is going to save lives. It was absolutely the right thing to do.”

“As the conversation began to move toward the closure of schools and businesses, we began to worry about the financial well-being of our employees,” Downs said.

“Given that we receive our money, and it’s already budgeted to pay them, we wanted to be proactive to look at helping to take care of the families who are not able to come to work or are ordered not to come to work.”

The resolution states that in the case of a pandemic-related emergency closure, the board authorizes continued wage payments to employees — salaried and non-salaried — who are instructed to not report or perform work at the direction of the superintendent as long as the school received confirmation that the missed workdays will not be required to be made up at a later date. This confirmation would be coming from the Indiana Department of Education.

All of the wages to be paid will be based on each employee’s base pay and will not include payments for missed opportunities such as overtime, according to the resolution. One caveat is that this resolution only applies to closures and does not apply to absences necessitated by an employee’s own health condition or quarantine.

“This resolution protects the board against the state forcing us to make days up after we have spent the money; it allows us to pull that back if it looks like it’s going to be that way,” Downs said.

“Although the governor has given us 20 waiver days, and given our eLearning prowess, I am very comfortable that we are not going to have to give any money back to the state.”

Substitute teachers are not included in the resolution unless they were on an extended assignment. They will be paid until the end of the term of their assignment.

Downs said the instructions for the employees at this time are to stay home, but if the school needs them and it’s safe, they are required to come to work. If people are unable to come in, as long as they replace themselves, that is fine as well.

Departments were instructed to only deploy skeleton crews, and people with compromised immune systems were among the first to stay home.

This will be in effect for the rest of the school year.

“It was budgeted so it’s not over and beyond what we feel like we can handle,” Business Manager Mark Snyder said.

The resolution — which was retroactive to begin March 16 and includes all hourly staff such as aides, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and more — to continue to pay salary and non-salary workers was passed unanimously by the board.

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