In an effort to protect the health and safety of Missouri citizens, Gov. Mike Parson announced a statewide distancing order Saturday. The order went into effect Monday.
With that order, all Missouri schools will remain closed until April 6, unless the public health situation dictates that a longer closure is necessary. School districts in the Webster County area have been working to help fight the spread of coronavirus, but also to tackle education barriers.
Fordland R-III superintendent Chris Ford said as of now, the Fordland district is planning on being in session starting April 6. The school meal plan includes breakfast and lunch, which are free to all children ages 1-18. Distribution began Monday and will be held every weekday at the high school entrance from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Starting on Thursday, there will be pickup options at three additional sites throughout the Fordland School District from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Ford said learning resources will also be provided.
"Our goal in this is to provide support to parents as they have their students at home," said Ford. "We are aware that not everyone has reliable technology access. Everything we distribute will be available in a digital and paper form."
The initial online resources will be ready on Wednesday, March 25. The paper form of these learning resources will be ready for distribution on Friday, March 27.
"Each building will be contacting families in the Fordland district this week," said Ford. "The Fordland district is still moving forward with our graduation on May 15th and the last day of school being May 20. If school is closed longer, the school district will reevaluate the teaching and learning plan, school meal plan and other end-of-the-school-year activities."
At Logan-Rogersville, superintendent Shawn Randles said the district is instructionally asking the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to remove barriers, and they have responded. Statewide assessments have been canceled by DESE for the remainder of the SY 2019-20 school year. Randles said funding is stabilized by the measure already in statute, and academic calendar hours missed due to COVID-19 have been forgiven.
"We are thinking about how we can provide resources to parents in the short term, so students can continue to engage their mind," said Randles. "We are also planning for the worst-case scenario of not returning to school and if school can continue in some form, or can our economy handle one or both parents working from home and helping their student(s) continue to learn. There are many questions that need answered before we can move forward."
Randles said there are other barriers to overcome. One of the main barriers is whether families have internet service at home.
"We have a lot of questions," said Randles. "Is it reliable? Are their download and upload fast enough, or is this frustrating to the student and family? We have teachers that do not have internet service at home because of the topography, distance from an available connection, or simply too many trees surrounding the property. We want our students to feel safe by establishing a sense of routine and security. This is hard to do when we don't see them daily. We are not only worried about their intellectual growth, but also their EQ" (that is, "emotional quotient," or level of emotional intelligence).
"There should be an announcement from the governor's office as early as today, which will provide us with some direction moving forward so we can plan accordingly," Randles said.
Due to the extended closure, all state/federal mandated testing is canceled for the year, according to superintendent Marshfield R-I superintendent David Steward. He added the state has indicated that the days they are closed due to COVID-19 will be forgiven and not need be made up. Steward said that as of now, there is no decision on graduation.
"Since we hold it at Drury, we have to be aware of what they are allowing to occur in their facilities," said Steward. "I anticipate us looking at that in more detail over the next couple of weeks as we have more information. Regarding grades and curriculum, our teachers and academic staff have done a wonderful job getting lists of resources organized and ready for parents that want them."
Steward explained their intent is to navigate through this week by week, as the guidance they receive from state and federal authorities continues to evolve. For instance, during the week of March 23, there will be no grade-level or course-specific assignments, just a list of resources for parents and students to use, at their option, in order to help students keep their brains engaged. For the week of March 30, the information provided will become more specific — for each grade level or course — but will not be required for a grade.
"This approach is necessary due to guidelines from the federal level on how we need to provide support to those with disabilities," said Steward. "We don't yet know how things would look if this closure is extended past the week of March 30. We have developed a document that guides how much work teachers should be creating for students to work on at home. Again, at this time all of the work is voluntary due to federal guidelines regarding those with disabilities. Throughout this closure, our goal is to provide what we can to all of our students while not overwhelming them with work due to the stress they are already under due to the COVID-19 virus."
During the closure, the district has restricted its campuses to allow no more than 10 staff members on each campus at any given time throughout this week. Teachers have the option to work from home during the closure as they develop learning packets for students.
"Each student should receive a call from his/her teacher this week, so that we can check in on our students and see how we can help to make sure that all have food and necessary access to academic resources during the closure," said Steward. "Our administrative, custodial/maintenance, food service and central office staff have done an outstanding job of preparing for this change in a very short amount of time. I’m proud to be a part of such a committed and selfless group whose focus continues to be on supporting our students."
Niangua R-V superintendent TJ Bransfield stated their plan is to be back in school to finish the year sometime in April. They are taking direction from local, state and federal sources, in order to stay informed. As for graduation dates, Bransfield said, "We have not made any changes to our graduation dates. We hope to be back in school prior to graduation."
Bransfield said their teachers are utilizing digital and print curriculum resources, in order to keep students educated during the time away. They have prepared lessons that all students are able to access and complete.
"We have been feeding our teachers all of the information and resources they need to successfully reach all of our students," said Bransfield. "Our teachers and staff members have been assisting with food distribution and curriculum planning. We had been doing some preparation prior to the closing of the district so our teachers have done an excellent job of adapting. Our students and parents have been great to work with during this time."
In Strafford, superintendent Brett Soden said that the district is taking the situation one day at a time. The school’s education team has met several times to plan for the future. Soden said their main goal is to feed students, keep people safe and continue education as best as they can.
"We are offering learning resources, and teachers are learning new ways to teach students virtually," said Soden. "Our teachers are learning the best techniques to educate our students, and that’s really important. We ask that everyone be patient in these times."