One week of the 2021-22 school year is in the record books, and Massac Unit 1 Superintendent Jason Hayes informed the board of education at its meeting Monday night that things are “off to a really good start.”

With a full day of school, eating lunch, having recess, Hayes relayed that several students have commented to their teachers and principals that “this feels like normal school again, only with masks.”

Gov. JB Pritzker’s reissued his disaster proclamation and executive order on Aug. 20 requiring masks be worn indoors by all teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, at all public and private K-12 schools until Sept. 18.

“We’re hopeful in that there were no new restrictions” with this latest order, Hayes said. However, “there’s a lot of speculation that restrictions are coming after Labor Day. … The governor and the CDC have been pretty adamant that we need to be in school this year. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to continue in-person learning. If anything changes, we’ll do it. But, for right now, we’re going to try to continue like we are. … We’ve been lucky so far.”

Pritzker’s first issued the executive order requiring masks on Aug. 4. The Unit 1 board held a special-called meeting on Aug. 10 approving in a 4-1 vote — yes by Don Koch, Jennifer Larrison, Kathy Rushing and Bobette Steele and no by Jeff Brugger; board President Mark Souders and board member Bill Holt were absent — to revise the district’s 2021-22 Return to School plan to reflect the requirement.

“The staff and the students have been wonderful,” Hayes said. “We really didn’t have any issues that we thought we might have. Our parents, even though they might not be supportive of the masks, have been supportive of school, so kids are attending.”

Monday’s meeting also included an update on enrollment. As of Monday morning, the district is down 20 students from May’s 1,824.

“We’re pretty much right where we ended the year and are getting more in every day,” Hayes said. “We weren’t sure how many kids we would lose because of the mask mandate. Hopefully some of them will come back.”

However, over the course of the 2019-20 COVID school year, Unit 1 lost 150 students.

“A lot of them moved out of state. We’ve gotten record requests from a lot of different states, including Texas, New Jersey and North Carolina,” Hayes said. “I don’t know if those kids will come back, which is a little troubling because our revenue is based on student enrollment. We’re really watching that. We haven’t rebounded yet. We should be more around 1,950.”

During its meeting Monday, the board:

• Approved the collective bargaining agreement with the Massac County Education Association for 2021-24.

• Authorized bids for food due to the current contractor, Kohl’s Wholesale, being unable to fulfill the contract due to a driver shortage because of COVID.

• Approved the retirements of: Jackie Hodge, special education supervisor, effective at the end of the 2023-24 school year; Tracie Key, second-grade teacher at Metropolis Elementary School, effective at the end of the 2023-24 school year; and Mary Claton, Massac County High School teacher aide, effective December 2021.

• And, approved the new employment of Erica Jacobs Rosas as MCHS nursing instructor.

•••

As part of its special-called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 10, the Unit 1 board also voted on several personnel items. Board members attending the meeting were vice president Larrison, who presided over the meeting, Koch, Rushing, Brugger and Steele.

The board approved

• New employments: Shelby Glidden and Lucas Raye as MES teacher aides; Dan Mings as P.E. teacher at Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools and MCHS assistant football coach; Coleton Jeralds as MCHS assistant football coach; Jessica Lewis as Franklin secretary, with Larrison abstaining; and Winter Hall as Massac Junior High School teacher aide and cheer sponsor.

• And, the resignation of Calvin Morse, special education aide at MJHS.

The board also recognized the transfer of Jeremy Holley to the staff of the Regional Office of Education alternative classroom, called STARQUEST Academy Safe School, located in Metropolis.

•••

Hayes noted the district is “almost staffed up,” but there are a few positions open: a night custodian at MCHS, a math teacher at MCHS and a special education teacher at MJHS. He said those interested should look online or contact the schools for more information.

The board’s next regular meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, which will include a budget hearing at 7 p.m. The meeting will be in the MCHS library.

School will not be in session on Monday, Sept. 6, in observance of Labor Day.

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