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Alma COVID-19 Update

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools

 

Alma assistant superintendent of schools Travis Biggs believes there will come a point when COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. 

 

That time is not now, however. And, depending on the success (or lack of) from the incoming COVID-19 vaccines, there is no way of knowing if Alma schools will be able to finish the 2020-21 school year as planned. 

 

But it was business as usual as the school district prepared for the final week of the first semester.

 

As Alma's POC, 'Point Of Contact' official, who oversees assistant principals at all four of the district's schools, Biggs believes things are far better today than they were six months ago. 

 

"Our No. 1 reason for being is to give our students a good education," he said.

 

As of Dec. 11, Alma schools have had to deal with 97 positives when it comes to COVID-19.

 

"Just by the casual conversations across the state, we're lower than most," Biggs said. "The positive counts, we can't really control, though I think we can to a degree. Our four assistant principals that handle the tracing, they do an outstanding job. Dr. (Stacie) Wood, Mr. (Jacob) Coursey, (Sharon) Wilkinson, and Dee Harris, and with great help from the teachers, we work hard at knowing where the kids are."

 

Biggs said the district uses videotape, among other ways, to determine if someone who's been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. 

 

Some kids have been quarantined as many as three times this year — even though they tested negative for COVID-19. 

 

"We're going to make sure kids are six-feet apart and we'll use a measuring tape if we have to," he said. "We're going to follow the CDC guidelines, but a lot of school districts don't work as hard as we do - we believe."

 

Dr. Wood spends a big part of her day, Biggs said, researching those who've come into contact with COVID. We do a lot of research in a class, and we'll send six to seven kids home, where some schools may send the whole class home.

 

"I truly believe our hard work keeps more kids in school than not. The easy way out is to just send everybody home."

 

CARES Act

With money from the CARES Act, a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Alma has been able to take care of employees on sick leave without severely docking them. 

 

The Coronavirus Relief Fund to provide ready funding to address unforeseen financial needs and risks created by the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

 

"We have everything in place to finish this school year out, exactly how we're doing it now," Biggs said. "With the CARES Act money that we have received; the same money everyone else (other schools) have received, we're spending it in the proper fashion. But, what Alma's doing that other schools aren't, if a teacher is out, we're paying for it."

 

The CARES Act will run out on Dec. 31, Biggs said. 

 

But that doesn’t mean Alma will force teachers and employees to reach into their own pockets. 

 

"We, as an administration, have decided to keep paying for those teachers who have to be out; it's not our staff members' fault that they have to stay home with their six-year-old kid,” Biggs said. "We're going to continue to spend our money if the government stops the CARES Act."

 

Biggs said longtime Superintendent David Woolly was adamant that Alma schools will provide for teachers and school employees once the CARES Act runs out.

 

"For him to stick up for our people, that tells you how much of a team player he is and how much he wants to take care of our people," Biggs said. "He has provided us with everything needed; we have all the equipment. We have air purifiers in the isolation rooms that cost $3,500. Our buildings are thoroughly sprayed each night with cleansers. We really believe our buildings are as safe as they've ever been until a new COVID patient comes into it. 

 

"He (Woolly) has done a tremendous job of me, the POC (guy), of allowing me to do everything I can to keep everybody safe."

 

Athletic Concerns 

 

Alma’s volleyball team had to adjust its schedule just three times over cancellations because of COVID-19-related scheduling. The football team canceled just one of its 10 regular season games. 

 

"We have facilities where we mark off (seating) to make it safe," Biggs said. "For the most part, people are taking it seriously. We want them (students) there, but safety and guidelines are more important than your teams."

 

Recent guidelines have cut the number of required quarantine days from 14 to 10. 

 

"I told our coaches then, when it was 14 days, that if day 13 (of 14) is a Friday night, that kid can't play. Some people may not do that, but we're going to do things the right way.”

 

Thanks to spacious Charles B. Dyer Arena, Alma has played all its volleyball and basketball games in the Arena. Most junior high games, save seventh grade volleyball and basketball, are played in the arena as well.