BLAND — Since schools closed last Thursday, March 19, the Maries County R-2 School District distributed a total of 1,542 meals and plans to distribute more throughout the 13-day …
BELLE — Since schools closed last Thursday, March 19, the Maries County R-2 School District distributed a total of 1,542 meals and plans to distribute more throughout the 13-day closure.
Superintendent Dr. Lenice Basham said on Monday that they have moved forward with plans to distribute the remainder of the week's meals on March 19, so students who depend on meals would still receive them. The three pickup locations distributed 181 meals in Belle, 63 meals in Bland and 13 meals in Vichy — a total of 257 breakfasts and lunches per day — 1,542 for the three-day week.
This week they continued Tuesday (March 24) with an evening pickup at the Belle location and from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday (March 25) at Bland, Vichy and Belle pickup locations. Pickups next week, March 30 and 31, will also be on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
“That way if we have parents who can’t get there because they are working, they can pick it up in the evening,” Basham said. “Ages one through 18-years-old can do it — so even if they don’t have school-aged children, if they have a one-year-old to five-year-old who is not in school yet, they can still do a pickup.”
Basham said they are hoping the age allowance will help the students in pre-school and Head Start, as well as anyone in the community who has little ones.
“(Meal Distributions) will be weekly until we are back in school,” Basham said on Monday, March 23.
Students are scheduled to be back in school on April 7, as Belle district operates on a four-day workweek.
“I’m hopeful that with everything the governor has in place will ‘flatten that curve’ and we will be able to get back to school sooner than I thought,” Basham said.
The Maries R-2 Board of Education held an emergency meeting on March 17 to close the schools following the end of classes on Wednesday, March 18, and to return to school on April 7, the first day of the four-day school week, at the recommendation of the Phelps-Maries Health Department.
The health department had previously urged schools in the area to stay in session even as neighboring districts announced their intentions on March 16 to close in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Board President Joey Butler II called for the emergency meeting on March 17 in the morning hours. Maries R-2 didn’t have a coronavirus case within 100 miles of the school at the time and was determined to remain open, but the health department’s recommendation changed at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“When Joey originally called this meeting, I thought it was going to be about staying the course, and that you all have the same words as me,” Basham told the board at the beginning of the meeting. “I thought we were going to stay strong. Then Boone County and Cole County have a case, so we need to shut down. We need to close. But we need to have some things in place prior to that closure.”
Board members shared what they knew about other school districts. Gasconade R-2 in Owensville closed at the end of classes on Tuesday, March 17. Maries R-1 announced around 3:30 p.m. on March 17 that they would also be closing until further notice.
“There is a map on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website, and we are here, then there is red all the way around us for everyone who has closed,” Basham said. “The Health Department, up until 6 p.m., said ‘we support you staying open, we encourage you to stay open.’ But at 6 p.m. they called me and said ‘hey, there are multiple cases in mid-Missouri, it may be time for you guys to make that decision.”
Basham said the Gasconade County Health Department supports whatever decision they make. She suggested Maries R-2 attend school as usual on March 18 and close Thursday, March 19.
“I’d like to wait ‘till Friday (March 20), I just don’t know that we can,” she said. “I want the kids to be able to come to school tomorrow, get their stuff out of their desks...I truly believe that when we close, we won’t be back. I one-hundred-percent believe the school year will be over when we close tomorrow.”
Basham mentioned a Center for Disease Control (CDC) spokesperson on t.v. who speculated things would be closed for at least eight weeks. She thinks Maries R-2 should expect similar numbers.
Director Tom Kinsey said when it gets warmer and the sun comes out it will help. Basham said most schools are attaching the closures onto their spring breaks, but Maries R-2 doesn’t have a spring break.
“I am ok with saying we will close until April 6. We will have a meeting again next week and will continue to give out more information,” Basham said. “I think we will come back April 5 and say ‘hey we have to extend this.’”
A food and technology survey to determine what families will need during the closure was sent out early Tuesday, March 17.
“We asked if they wanted meals, if they had the internet and which one of three places could they meet to pick up the meals,” Basham said. “We are recommended not to deliver because then you have hand-to-hand contact when passing it off.”
The survey received 300 responses throughout the day and about 85 percent said they needed food delivery.
“We have applied for the waiver from DESE to have the food deliveries covered under the summer food program,” Basham said. “We have not gotten a response as yet, but I think they are probably overwhelmed and it may take a little longer than the normal 24 hours.”
The first food pick up was held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on March 19.
“We are planning to do a full week’s worth of deliveries (at a time), with lunch and breakfast for five days with heating instructions,” Basham said. “Everything will be in one box, we will have one pickup point. They pick up enough for the whole family, for the children under 18-years-old.”
Basham said they will monitor the families who need the foodservice. She thinks it may taper off after the first week. They must have a district employee with an Opaa! representative at each site and monitor what age group picks up the food.
In addition to the foodservice, teachers have had time to prepare three weeks of assignments to send home with the students in the event of a school closure.
“They have lessons they are going to send home and things to do online,” Basham said.
The district will also be setting up a portion of the Maries R-2 website to be able to access the packets. The district will not receive credit for attendance during the closure.
“This is really just things that they can do at home, so when they come back, they haven’t not done anything for three weeks or read for three weeks,” Basham said. “The seniors are really the only ones we are most concerned about getting credit.”
Butler asked how that works if they don’t come back to school for the year.
“Is there just no testing, do they advance no matter what?” Butler asked.
Basham said she doesn’t know and neither does DESE because nothing like this has ever happened before.
“I would recommend that whatever grade they had the last day they were here, as long as they weren’t failing, we would give them the grade at whatever it was,” Basham said. “That’s probably been the hardest part for me, considering the seniors.”
Basham said they will figure out a way for the seniors to graduate.
“I don’t care if we have to violate the mayor’s law and all of us go to the park and have 42 different graduation ceremonies,” Basham said. “We will figure out a way for these kids to graduate. It’s those things that we work so hard to get you to that point and want you to have that opportunity. Not everyone can be there, and I am ok with that, but I do feel they are owed a graduation.”
Basham said she can’t fix prom or the track season being canceled, but she could do that.
As far as the extracurricular activities that normally go on at the school, Basham said everything will be closed.
“The building will be shut down for the entire three weeks,” she said. “No one will come in. No teachers, no librarians. The custodians will come in and clean at the beginning, then they are done.”
Basham said social distancing doesn’t work if they allow the teachers to come in and work, but she knows every school district does not have that opinion.
“Each building has a plan, athletics will totally stop the day we close. They are not allowed to have practices, not allowed to have optional weight training, not allowed to have any of those things,” Bashsam said. “Everything will be shut down, everything that uses the building will be shut down. We may need to work on a different plan once we see how long this is expanded.”
Basham said they are waiting for some guidance from DESE.
The state also requires schools to be open a minimum of 1,044 hours a school year, which districts will not be able to meet with the suggested closures. There was some concern about financial support if the schools voluntarily closed.
“DESE is giving some guidance, saying they are going to continue our ADA payments,” Basham said. “We will still have money coming in. They are not sure what to do about MAP and EOC tests because that is federal. But the feds are talking about doing a one-year waiver for that.”
Many schools are continuing lessons through a virtual program, but the Maries R-2 District doesn’t have that broadband or technological capacity to know how long each student is on or to maintain a connection. She doesn’t think they could reasonably expect three students in one household to be online consistently all day long.
“I have concerns that our high schoolers are going to be watching younger siblings,” Basham added. “It is really hard to be online doing your homework when you have young siblings to watch. We are trying to be equitable to make sure everyone has the same opportunities.”
As far as the senior trip and Washington D.C. trips, Basham says she has talked to both group sponsors.
“They will both be canceled or rescheduled at this point,” Basham said. “The D.C. trip would really like to reschedule their trip for late July. I am ok with that because they won’t get their money back. They have paid so much in and it isn’t refundable.”
It is unknown if Washington D.C. will open everything back up in time for the students to see everything.
“The senior trip would also like to reschedule,” Basham said. “At this point I said they can’t go this month, or in April, whenever they had it scheduled, because nothing will be open at this point. And I can’t allow out-of-state travel at this point.”
Director Amy Kiso asked if that trip was refundable.
“Parts of it are,” Basham said. “They have a list. When I talked to them after school, the hotel was the only thing they weren’t sure about. The plane ticket will be in the student’s name and can be used up to a year.”
Each student paid a $250 deposit, which they would get back. They are determining what the remainder of that fundraising would look like.
“It’s another one of those things that makes my heart hurt,” Basham said.
As far as teacher payroll is concerned, Basham recommended paying the teachers as early as Thursday, the first day they are out of school.
“Right now, payroll is ready to go for March, and if our last day in session is (Wednesday) then they will be paid on Thursday,” Basham said. “My biggest concern is our people are going to want to get 14 days worth of stuff so they can stay at home. I need them to be able to afford to buy groceries, baby diapers, and things to put them back in social distancing. So we will go ahead and pay a little early. I feel like it’s the end of the month and we need to make sure they have groceries.”
After the board approved to move forward, Basham said she appreciates that this is a hard decision.
“I thought the pressure for a snow day was bad, but this has been awful,” she said.
The board assured Basham that they understood the pressure and had agreed with the decision to stay in session until the new cases were released.
“I really felt we needed to keep our students in school as long as we could and keep our parents working as long as we could,” Basham said.
The board went into closed session to discuss teacher's pay.