Online Learning Faces Challeges

By Mike Scott

The start of the school year in Clark County R-1 school district classrooms gone very well.

“Overall, things have gone as smoothly as they can,” said CCR-1 Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht at last Wednesday’s school board meeting.  “I want to give a big shout out to Ardith (school nurse Ardith Harmon) for everything she has done in helping us get ready.”

Kracht also praised Evelena Sutterfield and the staff at the Clark County Health Department for working so closely with the school district.

Harmon, in turn, praised the Clark County teaching staff for working with her and utilizing seating charts to help protect the students, and to quickly identify any students who may be exposed to COVID-19.

Building principals even quipped that discipline issues have declined so far this year.

The only real problems for in-classroom students have been an unexpected sewer blockage at Running Fox Elementary on the first day of school, and some challenges coordinating student pickup after school at Black Hawk, which have since been resolved.

“My in-classroom students’ parents have been terrific,” said Black Hawk Principal Betsy Parrish.  “Anything we’ve asked, they’ve been more than willing to do.”

For remote-learning students, the story is nearly the opposite.  

“Parents of my online students are not pleased,” said Parrish.  “I’m getting 30-40 phone calls a day.  All I deal with are tech problems.”

In addition to limited internet access for remote students, many of the programs used by the school are overloaded due to the number of schools using them.  Customer support for the software is overwhelmed, and the training provided to the schools was inadequate.

And to top it off, last week, Google pushed out an update to all the Chromebooks, causing them to no longer run several of the learning programs used by students inside the classroom and remotely.

“Ninety-five percent of my at-home computers weren’t working,” Parrish said.  Inside the classrooms, some computers worked, others didn’t.

The district’s technology management contractor, Quality Network Solutions, said it wasn’t their problem, according to Parrish.  After Kracht made several calls to QNS, they eventually responded and helped get the computers and software updated.

But there is an even bigger problem facing the school district and its 54 remote-learning students.

“We have some students who are doing online, that are not doing anything,” said Parrish, who estimated that up to fifty percent of her remote-learning students hadn’t done schoolwork so far.  

At the High School, Principal Jason Harper estimated that 35 percent of his remote students were not doing the required amount of school work.

“I’m worried that graduation rate will be affected,” said Harper.

To address the situation, the school is seeking help from the legal system.

“We’re going to be contacting the juvenile officer,” Kracht said.  “These students are truant.”

According the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website:

Every parent, guardian or other person having custody or control of a child between the ages of seven (7) and the compulsory attendance age for the district has the primary responsibility of ensuring that the child regularly attends school. A parent, guardian or custodian of a child or children who do not regularly attend school may be reported to the Department of Social Services, Children’s Division, or to the county prosecutor’s office.  A violation of the compulsory attendance law is a class C misdemeanor.

The board also heard a request from the parents of a football player who would like to have their son enroll in remote learning, and be allowed to play football.

“We’re just asking for the opportunity for him to do what he loves,” said his mother.  

“Our current policy is that students must be on campus seven out of eight period per day to participate in extracurriculars,” said Middle School Principal and Activity Director Jason Church.

Church noted that MSHSAA is allowing students who only attend two class periods day to participate.  Putnam County and Mark Twain, as well as Hannibal and Kirksville, are allowing students to participate in extracurriculars if they attend only two periods.  All other schools in northeast Missouri require all-day attendance.

“School is compulsory.  Extracurriculars are not,” said Harper, who also pointed out that by playing football, this student is exposing themself to a lot of risk.

The parents asked if he could take online classes on campus, such as in the library instead of being in the classroom.

“If we do that for him,” said school board member Craig Hunziker, we have to allow it for anyone, and pretty soon we won’t have room and it will be just like being in the classroom.”

School board member Jason Acklie added, “We had a whole group of seniors last year that didn’t get any part of their season.”  Acklie was referring to the abrupt ending of school in March, and the cancellation of the baseball and track seasons.

After discussion, no motion to allow the change was made, so the current policy for extracurricular participation will remain in place. Remote-learning students are not eligible to participate in extracurricular activities.

The board also discussed possible changes to their green-yellow-orange-red school re-entry plan.  One topic of discussion would be to allow the middle and high schools to move to the orange condition, meaning every-other-day classes, while the elementary buildings remain on a daily schedule.

Currently, Kirksville, Macon and Monroe City are following an every-other-day schedule to limit the number of students and reduce the number of potential contacts in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19.

Parade of Champion is scheduled to proceed-with some changes.  Only 10 schools will attend, and the field show competition will be divided into three groups.  Fans attending will only be able to watch their school’s group perform, and then will have to leave.  The admission price will be reduced accordingly.

“We have athletic programs that are playing every week.  This gives our band kids something to look forward to,” said Harper.

Homecoming week will look different this year, according to Harper.  

“We want to keep it as close to a regular Homecoming as possible,” he said. “We can’t do a dance—it’s not safe, and the pep rally really can’t happen.”

The week will still have many of the same activities, and elementary students can do banners which will hang in the high school.

In other business:

-Kracht reported that the USDA is funding school breakfasts and lunches completely until the end of the year, or when the money runs out.  Students will all be served a free breakfast and lunch.  They will have to pay for any extra milk or a la carte food.

-The school will be applying for addition CARES funding

-Approved a MACC Dual Credit agreement

-Approve a student-teaching agreement with Iowa Wesleyan

-Remote-learning students who want school pictures will be allowed to schedule appointment on the makeup picture day.

-The district is applying for grants for internet hotspots outside each building.  This would allow teachers to take students outside and still be connected.