With Dickinson Public Schools approaching its Aug. 26 back-to-school date, educators and staff are preparing for a hopeful year after having to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic last year. The school system says they will not mandate masks, but will make adjustments to keep the safety of students and staff intact.

The DPS Board met Monday, Aug. 9, at the Professional Learning Lab to vote on a litany of business topics ranging from extracurricular cooperative agreements to school board policy revisions. Though some of the items were more housekeeping topics that put the school system on track for the upcoming school year, Interim Superintendent Marcus Lewton briefed the board with a short report that noted that this year will be different.

“... The one big change I would say from last year is currently face coverings may be worn but will not be required in schools. This is subject to change based on current transmissions,” Lewton said, adding, “Those things will be communicated as needed.”

Lewton remarked how this fall’s kindergarten numbers have significantly increased from the 2020 fall semester. So far, the fall kindergarten is at 355 students, which increased from being under 300 in 2020. Overall, this year’s enrollment has exceeded the previous academic year at 199 more students.

With Lewton’s update on the COVID-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, DPS will receive approximately $10 million over the next three years until December 2024 to combat the learning loss, budget shortcomings and other setbacks of COVID-19. DPS is currently in the process of filling out the application and creating a plan for the COVID-19 relief funding. Lewton detailed why it is important to utilize this funding in the most efficient manner.

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“So we started at the end of June (and) beginning of July with surveying our stakeholders where they thought we should put that money. And we had a great response from all stakeholders — families, kids, staff, administrators, everybody; it was great. From there, we developed some buckets of big ideas and we used our cabinet to refine those things,” Lewton said. “... Just a couple of big ideas, one was that we didn’t want any new programs. We wanted to invest in the people we have currently and invest in processes — not necessarily programs. Knowing where we were from a budget shortfall this year, we really were cautious and hesitant about any new positions. We wanted to rather invest that money in making the people we have now more effective at their job and helping them get the skill sets that they need.”

Lewton and DPS Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris also highlighted the benefits of moving forward with the 2021-2022 Continuity and Health plans. From the July 19 Press article, the DPS Board of Education began drafting its Continuity Plan. This outlines policies and protocols, required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials, for the district to safely resume in-person instruction.

“Our plan is meant to be flexible and adaptable, essentially. So it can change as needed,” Lewton said.

The main takeaways from this plan, Lewton noted that protocols and the delivery model were the highlight of this plan.

Following the unanimous decision to approve the 2021-2022 Continuity Plan, Harris explained to the board how that plan relates to the 2021-2022 Health Plan.

“This goes hand in hand with the Continuity Plan that you just voted on; it kind of provides some details (and) puts some meat on the bone a little bit as to how we will achieve the Continuity Plan. As Dr. Lewton indicated it was meant to provide some flexibility for the board to be able to respond to what we don’t know. We know that COVID has been a changing thing; our understanding has changed; our response to that understanding has changed,” Harris said. “... This was meant to provide guidance; it gives a lot of encouragement to the building leadership teams to provide protocols that work within their individual building to meet the health and safety needs of their students. But again, to provide the most flexibility for you, the board, to be able to make the decisions as to how we will respond as we get a better understanding of what our current COVID situation is.”

The DPS Board voted unanimously to move forward with the 2021-2022 Health Plan.