COVID issues dominate R-2 board’s agenda

Staff, administration reports reflect virus’ intrusion in daily school proceedings

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 9/23/20

Several topics at the Monday Gasconade County R-2 school board meeting could contribute its cause to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner presented reports to the …

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COVID issues dominate R-2 board’s agenda

Staff, administration reports reflect virus’ intrusion in daily school proceedings

Posted

Several topics at the Monday Gasconade County R-2 school board meeting could contribute its cause to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner presented reports to the board, a theme began to resonate.

“Right now our positive cases are at .3 percent,” said Garner, who later announced his intentions to retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year. “We know physical distancing is key.”

Board Director Molly Steinbeck asked Garner how many students were out due to the virus.

“I don’t have those numbers,” Garner said. “But 13 came back today.”

Technology Director Casey Fisher was the first of many to attribute a problem with his department due to COVID-19. “We are doing well, but are still waiting on some equipment,” Fisher said.

Garner asked if it was scheduled to come in November. “January if we are lucky,” Fisher clarified.

Board Director Joyce Lowes asked if COVID-19 was the reason for the delay.

“It started with COVID, but now it could be the relationship between China and the United States,” Fisher said.

Teachers have increased the technology use in the building in attempts to have classrooms be accessible online, which many of the building administrators reported on.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeri Kay Hardy informed the board in her report that the Sept. 25 professional development (PD) day for teachers, and many future PD days will be dedicated to learning how to use online classroom technology. Classes are not in session Friday.

“This is in case we have to go to virtual instruction, teachers need to learn to flip the classroom in case we have to go into quarantine,” Hardy said. “We are going to pick a day and do a test run to make sure the system can handle it.”

The test run will consist of every teacher in the district allowing students to conduct an online lesson in the classroom at the same time.

Transportation Director Gary Pohlmann informed the board in his report that ridership is down 250 students and he was one bus driver short for regular routes, but came up with a solution.

“We are combining a route?” Garner asked Pohlmann.

“Starting today,” Pohlmann said.

Garner told the board it was a positive that Pohlmann was able to combine the routes, especially with 354 square miles in the district.

“How early and late does our longest bus route leave and get back?” Steinbeck asked.

Pohlmann said this year they are shorter than they have been.

“The longest any student is on the bus is 75 minutes,” he said. “All of our bus routes are back by 4:45 p.m. but our earliest pick up is 6:40 a.m., which can’t be helped.”

Pohlmann attributed the 200 to 250 student drop in ridership to both parent pick up and virtual learning.

“It took a little bit of juggling at the beginning of the year because there was a higher rate of parent pick up on campus,” Pohlmann said. “But everyone did a really good job.”

Pohlmann was questioned if he is worried about ridership increasing after the second semester, when many students are expected to return to in-seat learning from virtual learning.

“That is always my biggest fear, we have had to make some adjustments this year due to lack of kids on a route,” Pohlmann said. “That was the route that I was able to combine.”

He said if more kids were to return to using school transportation, he would have to look at having students ride other buses in their area.

“It’s about keeping a good eye on how many kids are on a bus and know where those buses could be pulled,” Pohlmann said.

According to a chart from Hardy’s report, there are 1,781 students enrolled in the district. Currently, 127 of them are e-learning from home, and 30 are home-schooling or using another private program. The district has a potential of 1,653 students at any given time.

Those numbers change fluidly as the health department contacts the district with positive or quarantine cases such as the one that came out Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Sept. 22 letter for the Garner, an Owensville High School (OHS) staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member last attended school on Sept. 18 and was not showing symptoms. Working with health officials, it was determined no students will need to be quarantined but the staff member will.

The district was also notified Tuesday that two Gerald Elementary School students and one Owensville Middle School student have been asked by health officials to quarantine due to an exposure outside the school environment.

A text message was sent out to parents and guardians early Tuesday afternoon.

Garner said substitute teachers are also a concern, as the district has a low fill rate, the amount of substitutes needed for standby in case of an emergency. Since Sept. 16, the district has lost four staff members — all at OHS — of which two have tested positive and two have self-quarantined due to exposure.

“There is a 20 hour course that a potential substitute has to take,” Hardy said. “They must have a high school diploma and be 21-years-old or have 60 college credit hours.”

Hardy said they have substitute teachers in training, which protects the district.

“We have to have coverage within the building,” Garner explained.

If they don’t have someone to cover a class right now, they will use a teacher that has a prep hour during that class time, or a staff member or administrator.

Board Director Jean Baker asked if those teachers were being compensated for covering the class. Garner said he didn’t think so, but they are keeping track of the time.

During the August board meeting, board members voted to allow outdoor sports facilities to be utilized for practices and games, with a limited number of people in attendance. Garner asked how the board would like to proceed with fall sports, as they had previously disallowed using indoor facilities.

“I think we should go from a youth or student perspective on this one,” said Glenn Ely, board president.

Garner agreed that going from the youth or student perspective would exclude all out of district events. Steinbeck asked about sanitation practices before and after sporting events.

“It is mainly for youth practices,” said Athletic Director Ryan Okenfuss. “We will tell (outside program directors) what our program buys and they would have to use the same thing.”

The board voted to allow use of the indoor facilities to student and youth sports with a 7-0 vote.

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