It’s already August and our first day with students is rapidly approaching. Over the past few months, District leadership has spent countless hours and resources in planning for school to re-open as scheduled on August 25. We have monitored available resources including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and the Phelps/Maries County Department of Health (PMCDH). School districts across the state and specifically, our county, have collaborated in an effort to make reopening plans that meet not only the educational needs of our students, but also the mental and physical needs of our students. Making these decisions has not been an easy process. The rules and guidance seem to change on a daily basis. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach that will work in this situation. Each district has to individualize a plan that works best for them.
Paying close attention to the media, our community will undoubtedly hear what school districts in hotspots and especially in the cities are doing. Several metropolitan area districts have made recent announcements about delaying or starting their school years virtually. Some are saying a few weeks, some are saying a quarter, and some are saying the entire first semester. I have been in constant contact with the PMCDH and other area superintendents over the past few weeks. Most rural school superintendents feel it is important to analyze area “active cases” before considering moving to a 100% virtual format. Our present county cases remain significantly low in comparison to many of the hotspots throughout our state. Governor Parson and DESE continue to leave closure decisions up to each individual district based on local cases.
Although the current public health situation has introduced a new level of risk for in-person interactions, District precautions and safety protocols for staff and students will be proactively implemented that will mitigate and minimize this risk. We will continue to provide regular updates concerning our reopening plan, while acknowledging that this plan will necessarily be revised if the public health situation shifts into or near our district boundaries.
I am fairly certain we will inevitably have a positive test at some point during the 2020-21 school year from an employee or student. When that happens, we will lean on the PMCDH for guidance for each individual situation. There will be cases when we close only a grade level or building. There will be cases when we close the whole district. Each scenario will be reviewed and a decision will be made based on the recommendations of the PMCDH. As soon as a determination is made, parents and the community will be provided the facts that can be shared and how the district will plan to proceed based on the exact scenario at hand. These urgent COVID related updates will be communicated through the district School Messenger, district website, and district social media accounts.
We have presented a streamlined, common sense approach to reopening our schools. Currently, we are offering both seated and virtual options. This plan includes safety measures to be taken to help prevent the spread of COVID, some changes in daily practices, and contingency strategies for educating students. This plan has already changed and will continue to change as we approach the start of school and beyond. We have already made some modifications to help our educational staff balance the demand of teaching seated and online students simultaneously. To enhance our online instruction, the elementary school will be using a program called Acellus and the middle and high school will be using Zoom within the Canvas program to connect to all students live during seated instruction time. Every time we make a change to our plan, we are making a good faith effort to keep our school community safe and get back to the business of educating our students. Our students and staff will remain our number one priority no matter what we do.
Our staff is working hard to provide our families with safe options to participate in as many important milestones as possible during the 2020-2021 academic year. Reminders and updates about all schedules and plans will be communicated by building offices which are presently open.