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High School and Middle School Students Return With Mask Mandate
By Mike Scott
For the first time since early November, Clark County R-1 Middle School and High School students will attend classes every day this week, weather permitting
“Our numbers really look amazing,” school nurse Ardith Harmon told CCR-1 school board members in a special meeting held Wednesday, February 3. As of Wednesday evening, the district had only five students and one staff member currently in quarantine.
“That’s the lowest all school year,” she added.
The focus of Wednesday’s meeting was to discuss whether or not to return to in-person learning for everyone, and what the requirements for that return might be.
Harmon reported that several studies have shown that while high school students are the most likely to be affected by COVID-19, the safest place for them to be is in school, due to all the mitigation efforts schools are making.
Every-other-day classroom attendance for middle and hight school students has helped bring the number of COVID-19 exposure related quarantines down. It has also had a negative impact on the education CCR-1 students are receiving.
“I have 41 kids attending school every day because of failing grades,” said Middle School Principal Jason Church. “That’s one-sixth of my school.”
In December, the school board took action to address the high number of failing students by requiring middle and high school students with failing grades to attend classes every day. Those requirements went into effect before the Christmas break for high school students, and at the start of the second semester for middle school learners.
“I have parents asking me if their struggling kids can come back to school every day,” said High School Principal Jason Harper.
“Educationally, it’s best to be in the classrooms every day,” added Harper.
Harper also noted that he has heard mixed opinions from his staff returning to every day classes.
Both Harper and Church believe they can manage their buildings to accommodate social distancing in most classrooms. When social distancing isn’t possible, masks would be required.
One exception will be middle school band classes.
“We don’t have the room to social distance them, and you can’t play an instrument wearing a mask,” said Church.
On November 19, Missouri Governor Mike Parson issued new guidelines for close contact tracing. Among those guidelines was that if everyone was wearing a mask, any close contacts would self-monitor and quarantine outside of school, but would be allowed to attend classes at school.
The CCR-1 school board voted on November 25 not to adopt the new guidelines, and continue with their Level Orange plan, every-other-day attendance for high school and middle school students. Elementary students, and those attending the Indian Pride Learning Center, continued to attend classes daily.
“The Clark County Health Department does not support requiring masks for grades K-2,” said Harmon.
The school district must follow the guidance of the local health department.
Both Black Hawk and Running Fox Elementary Schools, along with the Indian Pride Learning Center, have continued with daily classes. At November 25 meeting, both principals expressed concern about the problems it would cause in their buildings if some students were required to wear masks while others were not.
“Middle school and up are old enough to know how to wear them and keep them on,” said board member Jason Acklie.
CCR-1 Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht pointed out that under the governor’s guidelines, no extracurricular activities would be allowed in the case of a close contact exposure, even if all involved were wearing masks.
“Everyone knows that I love activities, but educating kids is why we’re here,” said board member Kevin Ross, attending via Zoom.
After discussion, the board voted 5-2 to adopt the governor’s guidelines, and require masks or social distancing for middle and high school students. Those students will return to every day, in-person classes on Tuesday, February 9.