R-1 again comes close to shutdown, but not from illness

Shortage of substitute staff confounds officials, a factor in extending Thanksgiving

Posted 11/18/20

HERMANN — Earlier this fall, the Gasconade County R-1 School District almost closed Hermann High School when more than 160 students were placed into quarantine. The district again came close to …

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R-1 again comes close to shutdown, but not from illness

Shortage of substitute staff confounds officials, a factor in extending Thanksgiving

Posted

HERMANN — Earlier this fall, the Gasconade County R-1 School District almost closed Hermann High School when more than 160 students were placed into quarantine. The district again came close to shutting its doors at least briefly in recent weeks, but not because of a lack of students.

This time it was a lack of teachers. Substitute teachers, to be precise.

Superintendent Scott Smith last Thursday night explained that an already-thin roster of substitute teachers was made even thinner in recent weeks — almost to the point of not having enough instructors in the classrooms, which would have prompted a closing.

Although such action was averted, the lack of substitute teachers remained a concern for administrators. Indeed, the smaller-than-usual roster of substitutes was a factor in the recommendation to extend R-1 students’ Thanksgiving holiday to include the entire week, rather than the earlier-approved Wednesday, Thursday, Friday break. Smith told the R-1 Board of Directors that the administration already had been advised by some of the substitutes that they would not be available for assignment next Monday and Tuesday.

In recommending the week-long break, Smith said the extended holiday would give faculty and students a chance to recover from the stress caused by the coronavirus. “Our staff, our students, have gone through a heck of a year,” Smith said.

Board Vice President Dot Schoennig, presiding at the Thursday night session, said teachers especially are feeling the stress of the coronavirus. “I think the staff needs a little break,” she said.

But Director Tim Schulte had reservations about the extended holiday, at least in terms of helping staff members cope with changes in routine brought about by the virus. He said everybody is having to deal with changes resulting from the pandemic. “I’m going to vote for this…but we’ll probably get some backlash on it,” he said.

Smith is hoping the extended break will be more than a short-term respite from COVID-19 practices. Indeed, the break could have a more long-term implication for R-1’s operations. The move, he said, “might help us get to Christmas” without having to close the doors.

Smith said including Monday and Tuesday in the holiday break should not pose a problem. The state requires a minimum of 1,044 hours a year. R-1’s calendar for this school year has 1,156 hours. “I do not believe we would have to make the days up,” Smith said.

Such a move has been talked about previously by the R-1 board, Smith said. “I feel like it’s a good time” to make the move, he said, noting that other area districts are making the same move.

The board voted 5-0 to extend the Thanksgiving break.

The R-1 administration is putting in place a mandatory mask policy for the middle school, which goes along with Gov. Mike Parson’s announcement last week that students within 6 feet of a classmate who tests positive for the virus will not have to be quarantined for 14 days if they were wearing masks while within the 6-foot zone. The move is aimed at helping keep the schoolhouse doors open.

The district’s Governmental Relations Day on Thursday, Dec. 10, in the high school commons area will feature student projects and achievements. “I’d like our government officials to see what our students are doing,” Smith said.

The R-1 board will have a work session Monday at 5 p.m.

Three participants in a youth hunting program at Hermann Rod & Gun Club reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, health officials reported this week.

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