Accomack School Board To Use CARES Act Funds for Student, Staff Safety

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By Stefanie Jackson – Accomack County Public Schools has previewed plans to spend nearly $1.7 million it qualified to receive from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

The school district’s top priority is keeping students and staff healthy and safe by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, deep cleaning classrooms, and sanitizing surfaces using electrostatic sprayers.

“If I’ve heard one thing in these meetings, above all, we need the cleaning, the masks, the spraying, all of that,” said Finance Director Beth Onley Aug. 4.

Her department cannot estimate how much the PPE will cost until the school district knows how many students will attend school in person in the fall, Onley said.

The Association of School Business Officials and the Association of School Superintendents stated that a school district with 3,659 students would spend nearly $194,000, or about $53 per student, on PPE, she said.

There were 5,171 students enrolled in Accomack County Public Schools last year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Schools can spend CARES Act funds in 16 categories, five of which relate to existing U.S. laws authorizing federal spending on education: ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and the Adult and Family Literacy Act.

The remaining 11 spending categories include intra-agency coordination to respond to COVID-19, local education agency preparedness, school leader resources, technology, sanitization training, sanitization supplies, at-risk students, extended learning time (such as summer school or after-school programs), coordination for long-term school closure, mental health, and other COVID-19-related expenses.

Some expenses fit in more than one category, Onley noted.

The Accomack school division is planning to apply for CARES Act funds in eight of 16 categories:

  • IDEA, for rewriting IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) for special education students.
  • School leader resources, to supply iPads to Accomack school principals.
  • At-risk student groups, for two additional translators for English learners.
  • Sanitization supplies, for electrostatic sprayers, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, gloves, gowns, face coverings, shields, safety signs and floor markers, UV water coolers, carpet cleaning, and 18 additional part-time custodians.
  • Technology, for Chromebook laptops for students in grades 3 to 7, iPads for special education students, Cradlepoint routers for internet connectivity, USB drives, and webcams.
  • Mental health, for a social-emotional curriculum.
  • Extended learning time, for after-school programs at all grade levels and high school recovery.
  • Other, for food service carts to deliver school meals to classrooms and 10 assistants to work in an additional clinic at each school.

The CARES Act funds must be spent by September 2021.

Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Hall thanked Accomack health and public safety organizations for donating items such as disposable gloves and infrared thermometers.

“In order for this to work, and in order for us all to be safe, it is going to take the whole community,” she said.

According to Gina Patterson, executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association, of 132 Virginia school districts, 81 will offer a hybrid back-to-school plan like Accomack, 34 will have 100% virtual learning for the first nine weeks of school or longer, and 17 decisions are still pending as of July 30.

Many schools are “going virtual” due to difficulty getting PPE and other health-related items.

“I think that some of the kudos that we have gotten in Accomack County is that we have given parents a choice,” Hall said.

School staff members are creating schedules to help students keep pace when they’re learning from home, and a committee produced a video featuring Accomack students, which illustrates “what a normal school day will look like now,” she said.

The video will be available by the next school board meeting Aug. 18.