NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education heard of the negative impact a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is having on the district during its Monday, Jan. 10 meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie said the decision was made on Jan. 10 to employ remote learning for the rest of the week “with all the COVID cases that we’ve had, and we had an additional 12 positive student cases today.”

He said positive cases are coming in faster than paperwork can be processed for submission to the Health Department, adding that the COVID-19 situation also makes it difficult to staff classrooms.

“There’s a change in state law … We can have employees work as substitute teachers, and we had to do that today just to make sure that we had coverage in all the classrooms,” Leslie said.

He added that the Berrien County Health Department planned to meet with area superintendents on the morning of Jan. 11 to provide new quarantine and isolation guidance.

During an “Expressions from the Public” period near the end of the meeting, Liza Campbell asked if the board was going to vote on a mask mandate “especially considering the surge of the coronavirus,” adding “what is best for our kids is to stay in school.”

Rose Strother said she is in favor of a mask-optional choice, adding that she feels the significant number of cases is mostly because sick children are being sent to school.

Board President Lisa Werner (elected earlier in the evening) said she would like to see consideration of a face mask addendum to the Return to Learn plan similar to those adopted by districts such as Niles based on the school population that’s quarantined and the number of cases.

“And that determines whether you are masked. So that’s a local number,” she said. “We need to protect each other, we need to protect our kids.”

The board scheduled a special meeting on the subject for the evening of Monday, Jan. 17 (a day before the current remote learning period was scheduled to end) — but that meeting was later canceled. The next regular session is slated for 7 p.m. Jan. 24.

Board member Joyce Lantz said large gatherings that take place after school (there were several well-attended basketball games played Jan. 10 at the Middle/High School) should also be taken into consideration.

The Jan. 10 session was the annual re-organizational meeting, and Board of Education officers were chosen as follows: President Lisa Werner; Vice President Heather Black; Secretary Chuck Heit; Treasurer John Haskins.

Leslie noted that all three district schools (elementary, middle and high schools) earned “A” grades from Mich.com. He said part of the ratings system involves the best places to teach in the state, and New Buffalo Area Schools was ranked third out of 552 districts.

“For districts with the best teachers in Michigan, we were rated number seven out of 562, and for the safety school districts in Michigan New Buffalo was rated number 13 out of 578.”

In other Jan. 10 business, the New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education:

• Approved hiring Chase O’Donnell as district mechanic. Leslie noted that O’Donnell will have big shoes to fill as Rodney Craig is retiring at the end of January. “He’s just a great employee.”

• Agreed to have Natalie Walter coach seventh-grade girls’ basketball.

• Plans to continue with the existing schedule for holding regular meetings at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in either the cafeteria or Performing Arts Center.

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