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School board hears policy updates for instruction, winter sports

By Sue Sitter - | Nov 14, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Sparse crowds illustrate the impact Rugby schools feel from an uptick in COVID-19 cases in its community. School Superintendent Mike McNeff and Athletic Director Scott Grochow announced policy changes to the school board at its regular meeting Nov. 10.

The morning after Gov. Burgum placed the entire state of North Dakota in a high-risk category for the spread of COVID-19 on Nov. 9, the Rugby Public School board heard plans from administrators to manage the challenge.

Superintendent Mike McNeff said the schools’ plans focus on instruction and activities taking place with modifications to prevent the spread of illness. He presented information on the changes at the school board’s regular meeting Nov. 10 in the Rugby High School library.

“I know in our health and safety plan that we created in August, in the orange (high risk) phase, it indicated virtual learning. When we went yellow, it was the same thing,” McNeff said.“We’ve learned a lot since then.”

“We don’t think virtual learning is a great environment for kids,” McNeff said.“We definitely recognize in-person learning is critical to the development of our kids. I just don’t foresee us changing from our current model of four days in-person and one day of virtual unless we have issues with staffing.”

“We do have teachers and support staff that are directly impacted by positives and also quarantined. I’m concerned about it, but we continue to operate,” McNeff added. “Until that changes and we still have several staff going out, we can maintain our current schedule. So, our teachers have done a wonderful job following health protocols, distancing, masks, all those things to avoid those quarantines. They’re making some individual choices outside of the school system to make sure they’re not getting hit with close contacts and positives and all that, so I just appreciate what they’re doing.”

In an announcement on Rugby Public Schools’ Facebook page, McNeff reported the changes:

“In Grades 3-12, students and staff members will be required to wear cloth or disposable face coverings/masks at all times (cafeteria, hallways, classrooms, transportation, etc.). Mask breaks will be provided as needed by the classroom teacher. Students with special needs will wear masks when appropriate.”

“Keep in mind that if both parties wear an appropriate mask (cloth or disposable, gaiters don’t count) they are exempt from the mandatory quarantine (as described by North Dakota Department of Health guidelines for K-12 students),” the statement added.

The board heard a report from Rugby High School Athletic Director Scott Grochow about winter sports.

Grochow said the district planned to follow strict guidelines for crowd sizes and mask wearing as recommended by the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

McNeff said he and Grochow had met earlier with winter sports coaches in the school district.

“What happened there was there were a lot of changes. We don’t want multiple towns and teams in one location. We don’t think that’s a good idea (for winter sports),” McNeff said.

“So, those large wrestling tournaments may or may not happen, but I can say in our community, with our students, we will not attend those events,” he added. “We’ll be more interested in duals and triangulars, smaller groups for wrestling.”

“We did have a winter sports meeting with our head coaches,” McNeff added. “They talked about a lot of things (such as) how they can distance more. Can we have kids wear masks when they practice basketball? Can they wear masks when they’re playing hockey or wrestling?”

“I think coming away from that meeting, it seems crazy that a kid can wear masks in some of these winter sports, but we certainly can,” he added. “When these kids are at practices; when they’re on benches, if they’re not doing heavy aerobic running, they can certainly practice with masks on.”

“Fundamentally, as a winter coach, they need to be thinking about how we can make sure kids are masked and distanced at all times so we mitigate the spread,” McNeff said of the coaching staff.

McNeff said keeping extracurricular activities was critical for Rugby students.

“I’ve had some questions and comments about why are schools continuing to do extracurriculars,” he said. “I think extracurriculars are critical. They’re a piece of the puzzle when we talk about engagement in school for many kids.”

“Many of our kids participate,” he noted. “They don’t all have to be in sports; we’re talking speech; we’re talking FFA – we’re trying to keep the whole product going. At least in our community so far, we’ve been able to continue to have these events. We don’t believe they’re spreading events.”

“I was at the volleyball game the other night,” he added. “Everybody in that crowd had a mask on.”

“They’re very safe events,” McNeff said of extracurricular activities. “I think we should be looking at some of these large events in our community that are spreader events and our community continues to do first before we look at cutting some of these critical sports and critical events for kids: band, choir, FFA, speech, fine arts, all those things before we start saying we can’t have those. I’m pretty passionate about that. Many of our kids wouldn’t be at school if they didn’t have that carrot to (motivate them) to be here.”

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