R-2 board cancels classes through April 3 citing virus threat

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 3/18/20

Gasconade County R-2 students will have an extended Spring Break starting today, March 18, through April 3 to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Students were released from …

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R-2 board cancels classes through April 3 citing virus threat

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Gasconade County R-2 students will have an extended Spring Break starting today, March 18, through April 3 to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Students were released from school after regular hours on Tuesday. They will return to school on Monday, April 6, and be in session on Good Friday, April 10, and Easter Monday, April 13, to help make up for the lost time. At this time, no cases have been identified in Gasconade County.

Teachers and staff at the four campuses were in a flurry Monday to prepare for a possible 11 extra days off, as Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner met with Hermann and all the Franklin County school districts, parochial and public. Franklin County Commissioners and health department officials from both Franklin and Gasconade counties were at the meeting.

“The recommendation at this time, as you saw from that meeting — even before I got home — that they reduced the number of people to be around as 10 or fewer,” Garner told the board of education at their regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Monday night. “The recommendation coming out of that meeting was to suspend school starting Wednesday, March 18, through tentatively April 3. Based on the April 3 date, tentatively, is April 6 the day we want to come back? Or do we need to modify it?”

Garner said March 16 that is where the school districts around Gasconade R-2 are also.

During the extended break, students will be expected to complete homework assignments — via online devices for middle and high school students and paper packets for elementary school students. Parents were also given teacher contact information if they have any questions.

“What does that mean for our kiddos? That is what you heard our principals talking about — checking out technology, creating awesome online lessons, as well as some paper packets, and things to be sent home with the kids to ensure that we do the very best we can to provide them learning opportunities during that time,” Garner said.

Casey Fisher, the district’s technology director, said a survey was taken, and middle and high school students who do not have access to a device at home were able to check out Chromebooks on Monday. Students will not be required to start assignments until Monday, March 23, since Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were scheduled as the district’s Spring Break.

“We are just hoping and praying all these Chromebooks come back in one piece,” Fisher said. “I want to thank my staff too. They worked really hard, going around and making sure those Chromebooks could go out, getting teachers some programs and things they would be able to use that they hadn’t used in the past.”

All building principals said their staff worked hard without complaint to make the situation work for the kids.

Garner said they hope to start back April 6 and will know more as they get closer to that date.

“If we do start back April 6, I think the board should consider being in session Friday, April 10, and Monday, April 13,” Garner said.

He said his recommendation is based on having 13 days off school, only to return to school and have a four-day weekend. He added that he hoped they would be back by April 6, and that this was his official recommendation to the board.

Director Russ Farrell said he wasn’t sure that he wanted to make the kids attend school on  April 10 and 13 as make-up days. He was concerned about families who observe the religious holidays of Good Friday and Easter.

“I think the kids will be ready to come back to school,” the board members agreed.

“You always have the right not to attend school,” said Director Nona Miller.

Director Molly Steinbeck asked about the meal situation for students who depend on two meals a day at the school. Garner said they would continue to provide meals for those students.

“How do you keep from being wasteful?” She asked. “Or not having enough?”

Garner showed her a hyperlink at the bottom of the letter the district planned to send out via email and text after the March 16 meeting.

“This would go out to the families, and they would indicate that they will participate. Then we would communicate with those families directly,” Garner said. “It would be a grab-n-go.”

Families with kids that participate in the free and reduced lunch program will be contacted via the school liaisons if they do not respond to the survey.

“They will be asked if they plan to participate or if they are participating in another program,” Garner said. “Our backpack program is still in full swing as well.”

Gary Polmann and some of the transportation people may be able to help with deliveries.

“We are going to wait for the survey to come back,” Garner said. “But we are also going to try to meet those families where we need to meet them. We know with 354 square miles of district, we could be driving around a long time looking for people.”

Director Bill Seamon said the schools are being proactive in instituting this two weeks off when Gov. Mike Parson has not signed in on this yet.

“How is that going to affect our school funding with attendance?” Seamon asked.

Garner said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) had indicated to the schools that this will not affect the districts’ funding and the department will continue to fund the schools.

Stienbeck asked what happens to hourly staff members who aren’t getting paid during this time.

“They will be getting paid,” Garner said. “Because we will still be getting our funding from DESE.”

However, contracted employees who provide therapy and other services will not be paid.

Miller asked about any scheduled events on the district’s calendar.

“They will be suspended, rescheduled or canceled,” Garner said. “MSHSAA is doing the same thing. I just got an update from them that Scholar Bowl is on pause, Speech and Debate is canceled, and the music festival is canceled.”

Athletic Director Ryan Okenfuss added that the spring sports schedules are staying the same, but the championships may be pushed back into June to extend the spring season. It will be re-evaluated as more schools close.

“I think this year wins the award for having to reschedule the most events ever,” Steinbeck said to laughter. “Congratulations.”

Miller asked if all the schools in the area were closing. Garner said most in the area agreed to close. Although, as of Tuesday afternoon, the Maries R-2 School District in Belle and Bland, and Maries R-1 in Vienna remain open.

“They said today that if everybody would diligently do this and stay home, it would really make a difference in how long it will be before we get out of this,” Miller said.

Miller asked about Map testing.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeri Kay Hardy said if the students come back before May 22, they will still have to take the MAP tests. Garner added that if the federal government would waive the testing, they wouldn’t have to do it, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“I think we will be pleasantly surprised that this will even be a possibility,” said Board President Glenn Ely. The board of education voted 7-0 to close school tentatively from Wednesday, March 18 to Friday, April 3 — allowing for April 10 and 13 to be make-up days once returning on April 6; also allowing the superintendent to extend (cancellations) if conditions due to the COVID-19 issue necessitates.

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