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By Mike Scott
As quarantine numbers in the Clark County R-1 School have dropped dramatically in the past week, the CCR-1 school board held a special meeting to discuss Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s new COVID-19 contact tracing guidelines for schools. In short, the new guidelines to contact trace and quarantine fewer students and staff members in the event of a positive coronavirus test, if the district requires masks be worn at all times by students, staff, and visitors.
As of Wednesday, November 18, the High School had lost 1546 student days of instruction this school year. The Middle School lost 777 days, and Black Hawk lost 779 day. Running Fox lost 318 student days of instruction.
As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 33 students and 14 staff members who had tested positive.
And as of Wednesday, student quarantine numbers had dropped from over 200 to 152.
“The every other day schedule at the High School and Middle School is working,” said Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht. The High School and Middle School are currently on Level Orange of the district’s plan, while the elementary schools remain on the green, every day schedule.
“The governor’s new guidelines would take away contract tracing for many students if everyone is wearing a mask,” said Kracht
Last week, the Scotland County R-1 school district adopted the new guidelines.
“We cannot do beyond what local health officials say,” added Kracht. He reported that Clark County Health Department Administrator Evelena Sutterfield had told him that pre-k through second grade students cannon wear masks properly.
School administrators at each building gave their opinions to the board members.
Crowding in the lunchroom is the biggest concern at Black Hawk.
“It’s not possible to social distance between students, even with three at table,” said Black Hawk Principal Betsy Parrish.
Board member Heather Weber Webster asked if Parrish thought grades 3-5 can wear masks properly all day, and if there would be problems with some wearing masks while others did not.
“It would cause some dissention if half had to wear masks and the other half didn’t,” Parrish said.
Board president Mark Plenge said, “I don’t think wearing masks all day is right.”
“Do we want to follow CDC guidelines, or the governor’s?” asked board member Jason Acklie. “I don’t know the right answer.”
Board member Craig Hunziker asked the principals if their recommendations had changed in the past week.
“In my building, no,” said Running Fox Principal Katrina Nixon.
“Going every other day would only help our staffing problems,” answered Parrish. She went on to explain that it would not benefit the students.
“The mask rule would be academically the best for students,” said High School Principal Jason Harper. “We need them to stay in school as much as we can. It becomes harder and harder to educate them if they’re not in class. It’s safer to be orange, but academically kids will be better off in school every day.”
The discussion turned to whether students are doing the work at home. In previous meetings, administrators have discussed that many students are not doing either the online work or the homework packets being sent home.
For example, Black Hawk recently had an entire classroom quarantined at home.
“Very few did the work,” said Parrish.
“The gap is getting wider between those who get support at home and those who don’t,” said Kracht. “Academically, kids are falling behind.”
“We have to make an emphasis on getting the work done,” said Harper.
“And it has to be legitimate work, not busy work,” added Kracht, noting that the district has to file reports with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about the remote work being assigned.
“It’s not a day off for the kids. It’s a school day, out of school,” he continued.
“What are we going to do about it?” asked Hunziker.
“We can encourage them. We can talk to their parents,” answered Harper.
“You’re going to have to hold students and parents accountable,” said Middle School Principal Jason Church.
“It makes me nervous that a large portion of our students may be losing the opportunity to change their lives through education,” said Church.
After all that discussion, the board decided that it was in the best interests of the school district to remain at orange level for the High School and Middle School, and at the green level for the elementary buildings and the Indian Pride Learning Center. They did adopt the governor’s guidelines for students on school buses, which may reduce contact tracing related exposures on the buses. It should be noted that the district already required masks on the buses.
In other business, the board reviewed winter activities precautions. Church reviewed practice and game rules for basketball, dance, cheerleading and coaches.