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City staff ‘prepared to do what it takes’

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The Navasota City Council held an Emergency Meeting Tuesday, March 17, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the health, safety and welfare of Navasota citizens, city staff and the City’s daily operations. Before the meeting’s call to order, Mayor Bert Miller signed a disaster declaration that will enable citizens and business owners to apply for assistance if necessary. The meeting was streamed live on both the City of Navasota and Navasota Examiner’s Facebook pages. Officials from the city, county and school district were available to answer viewers’ questions.

City Manager Brad Stafford said, “The staff and city council are prepared for rapid change if any is needed. We’re very fluid in our operations.”

He continued, “We have a plan in place, if needed, to minimize staff contact with each other and the public. At this time, we are not recommending any closures. We are recommending that folks do abide by the CDC guide lines. We’re reminding folks at the Navasota Center and at the library that the CDC and the President have asked that folks gather in groups of less than 10 and maintain a six-foot social distance from their neighbors.”

Stafford went on to say that the city’s police and fire departments are prepared as are staff who may have to enter homes to handle gas leaks. Communication with the public will be maintained through the City’s Facebook page and website.

He said, “Our goal is to serve the public. Our goal is to make sure that folks are safe and that is what we’ll do.”

Stafford pointed out that for most of the staff, this is not the first emergency they’ve dealt with, and while a little different, “We are prepared to do what it takes to take care of the folks.”

Positioning to recoup losses

Among those present at Tuesday’s meeting were Navasota ISD superintendent Stu Musick, Grimes County Emergency Management Services Coordinator David Lilly, Pct. 4 Commissioner Phillip Cox and Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth.

Fauth told council, “The reason that we filed our (disaster) declaration yesterday, not to throw gas on the fire, not to increase panic or anything like that, but we do know that with the federal declaration, the state declaration, we want the county to be in line for expenses and refunds - refunds for the expense we may incur. We don’t know what those might be at this point. They could be minimal by the time this is all over, or they could be very significant. We just want to be prepared for that.”

Responding to a question from Councilman Grant Holt about notification, Fauth said, “Our Emergency Management Services Coordinator David Lilly is very well connected with all the health service groups... and we’ve all agreed to keep one another very well-informed.”

According to Fauth, whatever protocol that is in place includes notifying the City.

Fauth went on to detail action taken by the courts to suspend jury trials as well as closure of the district and county clerks’ offices but pointed out the ability to do a significant amount of business online.

Learning with a different look

Dr. Musick told council that NISD is maintaining daily contact with the Region VI Regional Service Center and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The district’s recent meeting with county officials and Emergency Management factored into the decision to cancel school the week of March 16.

Intercampus communication is being maintained through conference calls and Musick said, “We’ll see how the next couple of days play out before we make a call for next week and beyond.”

School districts have been advised by the TEA not to worry about school funding.

Musick said, “Learning might look different, and whatever that looks like as far as low-tech options for learning at home, even high-tech online learning options for continuing classes at home. As long as we’re doing what we can, then they’re going to count our ADA (funding for average daily attendance) and continue the school funding.”

Councilman Geoff Horn inquired about Governor Abbott’s decision to waive STAAR Test requirements. Musick said, “They’ve waived all state assessment tests for this spring. That also brings around a myriad of questions.”

Local school districts will be allowed the flexibility to make decisions on the advancement to the next grade.

Musick said, “We’re going to have to look at our local policy for Navasota ISD and adjust those accordingly…what are we going to look at to promote to the next grade level.”

Regarding graduating seniors, Musick said, “There are still a number of seniors who needed to pass a test in April or May in order to graduate May 29, and they just lost another option to pass that test. State law says if they haven’t passed three out of the five End of Course exams, they don’t graduate. Our local policy says if they haven’t met the requirement for the state assessment, they don’t walk at the commencement exercise.”

He continued, “Our board is going to have to take a look at local policies. It begins with this year’s seniors, but this is going to last for four years unless something changes as it unfolds. Waiving the STAAR Test right now has the potential to affect us and our policies and what we do for at least the next four years.”

Responding to a text question about the impact on Bizzell Academy seniors, Musick advised that the same process applies.

According to Musick, the question about districts that received an A-F rating, or schools that are in a school improvement process, has not been answered yet.