Maries R-2 Board of Education passes school re-entry plan 4–2

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 8/5/20

Maries R-2 Board of Education approved the district’s re-entry plan on July 28 for the 2020-21 school year with a 4-2 vote after discussing the oultined safety precautions.

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Maries R-2 Board of Education passes school re-entry plan 4–2

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Maries R-2 Board of Education approved the district’s re-entry plan on July 28 for the 2020-21 school year with a 4-2 vote after discussing the oultined safety precautions.

“Everyone in this room has to make hard decisions about this plan,” said Superintendent Dr. Lenice Basham. “I believe the best place for our kids is in school.”

The board received the plan in advance, so Basham did not go over specific details in the meeting. However, she did ask if they had any questions. Director Kenda Sanders did.

“I have a question concerning the virtual schedule,” Sanders began. “I assumed that the district would bear the costs for the Educere or Apex?”

Basham said that is correct, the district would bear the cost for the virtual education vendors.

“The Educere runs about $200 per course,” Basham said. “The Apex runs $250 a semester and you can take multiple courses.”

Apex does not have a virtual elementary school program, so they cannot use that option for the entire district.

Sanders asked about the district’s plan to advance students to the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year after missing the fourth quarter in the spring.

“I have a little bit of concern about the workload, the homework, and the stress of students,” Sanders said. “They’ve been gone, now they’ve come back and are gonna have to learn what they should have learned in the fourth quarter. I am going to assume there is a plan not to stress the kids out.”

Basham said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has a plan in place for that.

“DESE has recommended that we accelerate, not remediate,” Basham said. “We are not going back and reteaching every standard from the fourth quarter. We will look at those standards for the next thing, and as those standards come up teachers will back-up and teach enough to have that content there and then move forward. We will not be spending the first quarter reteaching the fourth quarter.”

Teachers have already determined which priority standards were not taught during the fourth quarter.

“It is not about adding additional learning, it is about teaching it as it comes up in the content, to make sure they have that back standard to support the new content,” Basham said. “There shouldn’t be fourth quarter and first quarter homework, there should be homework after making sure they know those fourth quarter standards.”

Sanders asked about how the district determines if the COVID-19 rate is low or high since the plan is color-coded. Basham said that is determined by the Phelps-Maries County Health Department.

“It probably won’t be by building it will be by what is in our community,” Basham said.

Fire departments in Belle, Bland and Vichy will also have internet hotspots available for the students. The school is in negotiation with the fire departments for them to buy the hotspots at a cheaper rate and the school district to reimburse them.

Sanders asked about the transportation precautions that require bus drivers to wear masks or a face shield.

“Have we had concerns from our bus drivers?” Sanders asked.

Basham said she has not met with any of the bus drivers and Transportation Director Tony Gieck has not mentioned that any drivers have come forward with concerns.

“It doesn't mean that they don’t have any,” Basham said. “They will have their meeting on Aug. 12, which I will be a part of. I am assuming when we do their training about how to clean a bus and provide safety that they will share their concerns at that point.”

Board President Joey Butler II said he wasn’t comfortable with drivers wearing masks and thought that it may prohibit their visual range.

“The bus drivers wearing facemasks, I think it is a bad idea,” Butler said, offering up his expertise as the manager/owner of Butler Trucking outside of Belle.

Basham said that is something that came from DESE as one of their recommendations to wear a mask or a shield.

“I see it as something that is going to be another distraction and I don’t want a driver being distracted by a face covering or wearing something they are not used to wearing while driving kids down the road,” Butler said. “I wouldn’t want truck drivers to wear them because it is just one more thing.”

Kinsey said if they wear glasses, they will just be fogging up.

“I think there is a bigger concern with our drivers getting something because the air isn’t moving around,” Basham said. “One of the recommendations was to keep the windows down. Well, that works great until it’s 22 below or raining.”

Basham said one of the administrative secretaries just went to their regular training and she would check with her about the recommendations.

“Well, I don’t see what a face shield with an open bottom can do for you,” Butler said.

“Well, if the kids are spitting at you,” Basham said while laughing.

Sanders also addressed that district officials will be checking the temperatures of the students and confirmed that the thermometers have already been purchased.

“At the middle school, it may be by the wing and they may have to share,” Basham said. “We got a donation from FEMA of some of those non-touch thermometers.”

Sanders asked how lunches would work with Oppa! employees. Basham said they will wear face shields so students can see their full faces and their mouths. They will also do all the serving this year.

“On the section where if a child or staff member becomes sick at school, the household will be screened for COVID symptoms. Are we requiring that?” Sanders asked.

Basham said if they discover one child is sick in the household she is requiring that they screen the entire household.

“Who is going to absorb that cost to the family,” Director Tom Kinsey asked.

“We are,” Basham said. “We will take temperatures and check for symptoms. We are not requiring testing. We don’t do testing at all, we will only do screening and temperature checks and talk to the family about where they have been.”

If there is a positive case in the school district, Basham will be notified by the health department that someone in the district has tested positive.

“The last four positive cases we have had in Maries County, I called and she said it is not in my district. I talked to the superintendent in Vienna and he called and she said ‘it is in your district but it doesn’t not impact your school,’” Basham said. “They are not giving us any information. Just enough for us to determine what to do.”

There is also a section in the re-entry plan about students returning from out-of-state vacations and how families should be in contact with the school nurse.

“The nurse will determine the risk based on destination,” Sanders said. “My question is will that be happening before school starts? Because I am thinking of practices starting, sports practices starting.”

“We are,” Basham said. “And once you guys approve this, we will be sending it out to say that once you return from a vacation, you need to be in contact with us.”

Basham said the Phelps-Maries County Health Department is recommending that the district doesn’t blindly require families and students to self-quarantine for 14 days after families return from vacation.

“Your vacation may look very different from her vacation and we are supposed to ask more questions about what that looks like,” Basham said. “Do I believe that everyone is going to tell us the truth? No. But I do hope they understand the importance of telling us the truth and at least keep them home for five days to see if they develop symptoms. We will probably recommend that everyone stay home for at least five days. Unless they went to the mountains and saw no one.”

Kinsey said this will eventually get into personal confidentiality.

“I would want to be careful about how far we go and what we can ask legally,” Kinsey said.

Basham said she attended an hours-long webinar earlier in the day that said the district could ask questions for the safety of other students.

“They can say ‘I am not telling you anything’ and then we can say ‘ok, you are going to have to self-quarantine for 14 days before your kid can come back,’” Basham said. “If you are not willing to share that information, legally we can say ‘ok, it is a safety issue and we can ask you to stay home for 14 days.’”

Director Amy Kiso said that a major amount of liability could come into play in a situation like that.

“I have the right to ask an employee that as well,” Basham said. “It used to be I couldn’t ask you if you were sick, where you are or what you are doing. Now you need to ask them if they have symptoms of COVID, a high fever — but there is still that confidentiality between the nurses and the employee.”

Sanders asked about screening students before extra curricular activities.

“Whatever you guys approve of — they at least need to ask the child to self-report every time,” Basham said. “Call me, don’t come if you have a temperature.”

Sanders also asked a question that has been on parents’ and students’ minds — if they option into virtual learning where does that leave extracurricular activities and sports?

“My belief is no,” Basham said. “If it’s unsafe for them to come to school and we allow kids at school, it is a greater risk of infection if extracurriculars are involved. So if they are taking virtually, they will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.”

Butler asked if the virtual option was only for sick students or if anyone can take the option.

“Anyone can opt in,” Basham said.

Butler said he doesn’t think the school can legally tell them they can’t participate in activities then.

“It depends on if it is COVID or MOPAP,” Basham said. “There is a difference according to the lawyers.”

If parents are saying they don’t think their kids are safe to come to school because of COVID, then the students may be excluded from extracurricular activities.

“I will verify that, Joey, with the attorney,” Basham said.

Kinsey asked when and how they opt in and Basham said they have to make the decision by semester because the school has to pay for it by the semester. Also, the district is not planning to offer lunches to the students who opt into virtual learning.

Butler also asked if school nurses would be trained for what questions they could ask and actions they could take. Basham said yes, they took COVID training and confidentiality training.

Students need to contact the administration building to find out more about the virtual learning option.

DESE’s recommendation is that the board approve the re-entry plan. The board approved the plan with a 4-2 vote, Kinsey and Butler against.

The Advocate reported on the district’s re-entry plan in the July 29 edition and a copy of the re-entry plan may be found at MariesCountyAdvocate.com.

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