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School board discusses return to five-day school week, expanded activities

By Sue Sitter - | Jan 16, 2021

Students in Rugby public schools could see a return to a five-day class week soon after the school board heard a proposal from administrators to transition to a traditional calendar beginning Feb. 1.

The transition to a new-normal schedule of five days per week was one of several topics for discussion at the Rugby Public School Board’s regular meeting, held Jan. 12 in the Rugby High School library.

The board voted to review a preliminary plan to return to normal instructional days at a special meeting to be held Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Students participating in athletic events and other activities should also see a return to more normal conditions, according to information presented by Rugby High School Athletic Director Scott Grochow.

“We’ve gotten away from the voucher system in activities because we’ve gone to yellow,” Grochow said of the state’s change to a moderate risk level designation. “They say the capacity in our gym due to the size of our gym is 750 people. We figure with vouchers we’ll never reach that.”

Grochow said other venues would have different crowd size restrictions, depending on their capacity.

“With hockey, we’ve decided to stay the same as Bottineau, so that would be a max of 300 people, which is double what it was before,” Grochow said.

Other changes include increasing the number of participants in wrestling tournaments to 112 from 84.

“Wrestling is seriously considering doing away with regional tournaments and everybody just qualifies for state,” Grochow noted. “That will be voted on by the state board. I’m guessing it will go through, so my guess is we won’t have regionals in wrestling.”

District, regional and state basketball tournaments will also see changes, Grochow said.

“What they’re going to do with regionals is find a facility big enough to host the event at one site,” Grochow said. “What they would do is similar to what they did with state volleyball. They would play a game; they would clear everybody out; they’d have extra time between games and start the second game, clear everybody out and so on. For us, it wouldn’t be a big deal, because we’d be in Minot and that (facility) is big enough.”

“There might be some regions where the play at home sites; there might be some regions where they play at regular sites,” Grochow added. “As for districts, they’re going to decide in the next week or so.”

Grochow said organizers for activities such as speech, band and choir were also looking at ways to return to events and performances safely.

“We’ve put concessions back in,” Grochow said of athletic events. “We’ve put in candy, pop, hot dogs and pizza. We decided not to do popcorn right now.”

Grochow added, “I’m happy to say throughout the state I haven’t heard anywhere that there’s been a transmission of COVID due to athletics.”

The board also heard from Ely Elementary Principal Jason Gullickson, who reported 35 students were enrolled in the school’s pre-k program. “Six students are participating in the virtual academy and we have 303 onsite,” he added.

“Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled for Feb. 1 and 2, they will take place 4 to 7 p.m,” Gullickson said, adding parents would receive notices about the conferences.

“Since we’re giving some consideration to returning to a five-day schedule, (special classes) that were held in the classrooms before, we’re working on returning to their normal location,” Gullickson said.

The new five-day calendar and class location changes should give teachers opportunities for prep time while their pupils leave the room for music and library time, he added.

Rugby High Principal Jared Blikre told the board, “We’re wrapping up quarter two and semester one here this week. Friday is the last day for quarter two and semester one. I did a power school workshop last week to start the process of building a schedule, that’s a lengthy process. Mrs. Sjol and I are busy with schedule changes and all the things that come with a new semester right now. Also, we’ve been thinking about the return to five days and what that looks like logistically with special ed and things there.”

“A lot of the things I typically report on this time of year have been canceled, such as FFA Leadership Conference, Junior High Math Counts, FBLA Leadership Council – there are a lot of things we’re not doing this year because of COVID,” Blikre added.

“We have a full plate of home activities this week and really all month,” Blikre noted. “We have boys’ basketball at home tonight and Thursday; the girls are away. Then we have a big Panther Booster wrestling tournament here on Saturday.”

Blikre said a behavioral health specialist, Jessica Minahan, would visit the campus later in the month. “She’s really good,” Blikre said. “Given everything happening with COVID, I think it will be really timely.”

Blikre noted students on the campus would take NWEA math tests “toward the end of February.”

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff updated the board on progress toward COVID vaccines for educators. He said school employees fell under the phase 1 B priority group for the state vaccine program, which also includes elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions. McNeff said more than forty school employees had signed up for the vaccine.

McNeff said he had heard patients over age 75 would receive their vaccines before school personnel.

In the meantime, McNeff noted, “Very few people are out for COVID. I would say less than ten students, no staff out, so that’s been going well. We keep doing weekly screenings.”

McNeff also reported school personnel had shared work they had done through a literacy grant with a state early childhood education program. Literacy staff in Rugby schools have prepared lessons for use by daycare providers to help develop reading skills in the children in their care.

“We’re pretty proud of the work they’ve been doing,” McNeff said.

A new federal stimulus program has made funds available to schools, according to McNeff.

“They’re calling it ESSER 2,” McNeff said of the funding program, whose acronym stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. “That was 14 billion dollars in the first round; now it’s 54 billion dollars in the second round. That’s more money going to public schools.”

“We can probably expect four times the amount of money we got in the first round, right around $470,000 is what we’ll get in federal relief for COVID,” he noted. “The challenge is how to spend that money. It’s not sustainable money so we have to be careful with that.”

McNeff said the last round of ESSER funds for Rugby schools funded technology.

McNeff also noted there were items for schools to watch in the upcoming North Dakota legislative session, which included a budget with a zero percent fund increase for schools. “That’s a little concerning, but we are also getting federal dollars that may help replace some of those funds,” he said.

In other business, RPS Business Manager Dawn Hauck presented financial reports, which included information about general fund transfers to be reimbursed with federal funds. The board also discussed ways to move school funds into higher-yielding accounts.

The board approved the bills and financials. The board also approved school policies recently amended and affirmed by committee.

The board also voted to discuss in March the progress of a COVID leave program for school employees given in addition to regular sick leave.

The board selected members Kris Blessum and Shane Livedalen to attend the school negotiations seminar Feb. 4 through 5.

The board will next meet in the Rugby High School library Feb. 9 at 7 a.m.

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