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School board discusses reopening plan, 2021 calendar at special meeting

By Staff | Aug 8, 2020

The Rugby Public School board held a special meeting Wednesday, July 29, to review a draft of a plan to reopen schools amid the national COVID-19 pandemic.

The board discussed and fine-tuned the reopening plan, which includes a variety of instructional models to address various coronavirus risk levels, and changing the first day of school from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26. The plan will be put to a vote at the board’s next regular meeting, Aug. 11 at 7 a.m.

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike Mc Neff said the plan was developed from survey results of families in the school district and school staff.

A committee of 28 community members, educators and health professionals including Lake Region District Health Nurse Samantha Wentz drafted the plan.

Survey results in the plan indicated about 95 percent of families planned to send their children back to school for onsite learning. The survey also said 70 percent of teachers preferred full-time, in-person learning at school.

Both students and teachers seemed prepared for some portion of their instruction to take place online, according to the survey results. More than 99 percent of students’ homes had internet access.

“I think if we showed (families) the hybrid model (of instruction and online learning), a higher percentage would really want that for their option,” McNeff

The hybrid model being considered for current conditions in Pierce County, which is at an overall low risk for coronavirus spread, includes four days of onsite instruction per week and one day of online instruction, with deep cleaning in schools taking place on the days students are home. Teachers would use the non-student day for lesson preparations.

Percentages of on and off-campus learning would depend on the risk of contracting the coronavirus in the community.

McNeff showed the board a half-circle diagram with a dial and five colors representing a “new normal” (blue) to “critical” (red). Green on the diagram represents the current low risk level for Pierce County, while yellow represents a moderate risk. Orange indicates a high risk.

In the event the coronavirus risk changes to a moderate level, the district would switch to what they called a “blended model,” which includes dividing the student population into two groups, with one attending classes onsite for a 2-3 day block, then attending online classes while the other group goes on campus.

Plans for instruction during high and critical risk times would entail spending all class time online.

McNeff said all scenarios allowed for on-campus instruction for high needs students in special educational programs. Other students who struggle with online learning will also receive special help on campus.

McNeff presented a rubric to help parents decide whether online learning fits their students’ needs. The rubric indicates online instruction has the most success with students who have good time management skills and a self-directed learning style.

Online instruction will be provided through an instructional program from Arizona State University. McNeff said teachers would be available on campus to offer help and “connect the dots” for students with questions.

McNeff also indicated the district was considering moving away from the Zoom meeting software and using Google Meet instead.

“We’re looking at grades one through 12 now, where we were using it for grades three through 12 in the spring,” McNeff said.

“We’ll also use See Saw. That’s a pre-k, kindergarten Google Classroom program, more friendly and (suited for pre-kindergarteners).”

The district will provide students with Chromebook computers for their online instruction.

Families with students attending Rugby schools will also receive screening questionnaires developed in cooperation with Lake Region District Health Unit. The questionnaires list symptoms to watch for, such as a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, headache or chills. Students with two or more symptoms from the list should stay home.

The plan also requires that students wear masks while moving from classrooms to recess, lunch and other activities.

Lunches at Ely Elementary will be eaten in classrooms to maintain social distancing due to space concerns in the cafeteria. Drinking fountains will be turned off, although water refill stations will be available for students using their own water bottles. McNeff said hand sanitizers would be available throughout each school building and students would be encouraged to practice proper hand washing.

The plan also calls for teachers to move to various high school and middle school classrooms rather than the students moving through the hallways between classes.

The plan also restricts visits by what it refers to as “non-essential visitors.”

“No visitors will be allowed in buildings (other than the front office) during the school day or be able to assist with district activities until further notice,” the plan read.

McNeff told the board he expected high school sports to continue in the fall, with modifications listed in guidelines set for by the North Dakota High School Athletic Association.

The association’s guidelines include coaching staff wearing masks and streaming the games online to reduce attendance by spectators.

McNeff also indicated the board would discuss the closure of Third Avenue Southwest and alley rerouting near Ely Elementary School at the district’s August regular meeting.

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