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Rugby school board reviews school restart plan survey

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 31, 2020

The Rugby Public School board held its regular meeting on Oct. 13 in the school library, where members discussed results from a survey measuring the progress of a school restart plan that included block schedules.

The survey, conducted late in September, collected data from parents, teachers and students in Rugby public schools. The board’s health and safety committee reviewed the survey results on Oct. 2 before presenting them to the school board, according to a message on the Rugby Public Schools website. A message from Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff introducing the report, published earlier in October, read, “To date, the district has had four positive COVID-19 cases within the student body and one employee that tested positive for COVID-19.”

The message noted 23 students and four employees had been identified as close contacts to people testing positive.

In mid-October, a color-coded map of North Dakota at health.nd.gov depicting risk levels and virus case numbers for counties showed Pierce County in the blue, or “new normal” level, with fewer than 10 individuals positive for active COVID. A short time later, Pierce County active case numbers began a dramatic increase, rising to 48.8 by Oct. 26. The North Dakota Department of Health reported one COVID death for Pierce County Oct. 24. The website’s map indicated Pierce County’s risk level had not changed from “new normal” as of Oct. 26.

“I am concerned about the health and safety of all within our school community and the impact COVID-19 has had on all of our students,” Mc Neff wrote in his Oct. 16 statement outlining the survey results. “I believe we have seen the value of in-person learning over the past 6-7 months. Fortunately, we have been able to have 4 days of in-person learning without interruption up to this point,” he added. “Many states continue to provide virtual learning as the only option. There are many districts in our state that are still primarily hybrid (2 days a week of in-person learning),” he said.

“The end goal is 5 day in-person learning, however, based on the feedback provided by our school community, I recommend that we stay the course with our current 4-day model,” McNeff added. “The four-day model provides flexibility for the district to manage all of the health and safety protocols to operate during a pandemic. We believe our plan is working and we want to continue it as we approach flu and cold season. There is a tricky balance between teacher workload/mental health and parental needs. I appreciate the sacrifices that families have had to make to allow our district to operate on a four-day model.”

Graphs of survey results showed most parents either supported the district’s decision to hold classes four days a week (21 percent), or preferred a four day a week schedule (33 percent). Forty-five percent of parents responding preferred the five-day model.

Sixty-four percent of students surveyed said they preferred a four-day school week, with 26 percent favoring a five-day school week and nine percent saying they supported the district’s decision.

Forty-two percent of teachers and school staff surveyed said they supported the district’s decision to schedule classes four days a week, while 43 percent said they preferred a four-day school week. Fourteen percent said they preferred a five-day school week.

After the rise in positive cases late in October, McNeff said the district would stay with its restart plan and four-day schedule.

“I wouldn’t recommend changing our instructional schedule if county risk colors change to a more restricted color,” McNeff said.

“In August when we developed our School Restart Plan, we thought we would be maneuvering between risk levels on a more regular basis. We’ve learned a lot since August, and at this point, we believe we can maintain our current instructional schedule if our risk levels increase. Our school district is a reflection of our community, we too have seen a dramatic increase in close contacts over the past few weeks due to positive cases. I am concerned about keeping classrooms open if we continue to see an uptick in our community,” he added.

“We have been using technology to allow quarantined staff and students to teach and learn from home,” McNeff noted. “We currently have around 6-10 substitutes in our pool and if we get beyond those numbers, we will need to make adjustments. We are looking to expand our substitute pool during the flu and cold season. You will need 48 hours of college course work to participate and we currently pay $125 per day.”

“Currently for activities, students are required to wear masks at all times, and adults are required to wear masks in communal areas and if they cannot socially distance,” McNeff added. “There are limits to spectator attendance and vouchers are required to attend an event in the school. These protocols will likely change during the postseason because they are governed by (the North Dakota High School Activities Association). We will likely increase risk levels this week, which will further reduce spectator group size and masks will be required at all times by adults and students,” McNeff said.

Guidelines limited attendance for a volleyball game in Rugby High School’s Hanneman Gym on Oct. 26 to 30 people.

“We will issue new guidance after the governor’s press conference this week,” McNeff said.

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