The East Grand Forks Public School District has been awarded $2.76 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Of that money, $1.9 million can be used for addressing learning loss during the pandemic, and $860,000 can be used for purchasing or replacing equipment.
District Superintendent Mike Kolness said the intent is to use those funds to ensure students are kept healthy and connected to technology and also that they receive mental health support over the next two to three years.
Kolness said the conditions of the funding are fairly broad, but cautioned that funds likely will go fast. Increased staffing and cleaning practices will have to be sustained for at least the next year or two, and much of the district's equipment, such as student computers, weren't updated during the pandemic.
With two counselor positions open in the district, and the negative academic impact of distance learning beginning to catch up to students, Kolness urged board members to also prioritize mental health with their spending. He suggested the creation of a position that would be a coordinator for social and emotional learning, who would have boots on the ground throughout the district to lead the mental health team and serve as the district's homeless liaison and foster care liaison.
The board voted in favor of creating such a role and for advertising the open position.
In other board-related news Monday:
- The East Grand Forks Education Foundation granted teachers in the district nearly $10,000. Among the grant-winning projects were the creation of a piano lab for East Grand Forks Senior High School, two new photography and graphic design classes for the high school, and a Balance-Auditory-Vision Exercise program that aims to improve student focus at Southpoint Elementary School, to name a few.
- The board approved the purchase of two gas-powered school buses, which will replace two diesel-powered school busses. They will be the first gas-powered buses in the district's fleet.
- Graduation will be held in person on Friday, May 28, at the East Grand Forks Civics Center. Initially, the district asked families to limit their attendance to six people per graduate, but due to changing guidance from the CDC, the attendance cap has been lifted, although the district still asks that anyone who is feeling sick to stay home. Those who are not fully vaccinated are strongly urged to wear a mask.
- The board recognized two retirements: Cindy Murray, a paraprofessional who has been with the district for 22 years, and Bruce Torgerson, a maintenance worker who has been with the district for 34 years. The Staff Recognition Banquet will be June 1, and will recognize staff retirements from both this year and the 2019-2020 school year, when the banquet was canceled due to COVID-19.