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School board approves updated calendar, mask policy

By Sue Sitter - | Jan 30, 2021

The Rugby Public School Board voted at a special meeting Jan. 20 to adopt an updated calendar for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year and extend mask policies in both Ely Elementary and Rugby High School.

The board will review the mask policy Feb. 9 to decide whether it should be changed.

Superintendent Mike McNeff told the board the policy had already been updated in November in accordance with a state mask mandate put in place by Gov. Doug Burgum.

“That expired on (Jan. 18) at 8 o clock,” McNeff said of the statewide mandate. “I wanted to make sure no one thought we were done doing this so I pushed out the message on Friday on social media.”

“Currently, what we have in place is school personnel are required to wear a mask at all times,” McNeff said of the RPS policy. “Grades 3 through 12 students are required to wear a mask at all times. Grades K-2 based on what we talked about are required to wear them as much as possible. Students with special needs will wear a mask when appropriate. Masks will be provided as needed.”

“There’s (a perception that) students are wearing masks all day and they are, but kids are pulling their masks down when it gets too much for breathing,” McNeff said, noting students are allowed flexibility within the policy. “I’ve observed phy ed classes,” McNeff said, noting in those classes, “we’re doing our best to keep masks on for long periods of time. Teachers are providing mask breaks so I think it’s important to note that they’re required but if kids need to take a few minutes (without them), teachers are very flexible.”

“My recommendation is that we continue to require masks at all times for all school personnel and visitors while on school grounds, activities, transportation, school buildings,” he said.

The board discussed the impact the district’s current policy has had on students.

Board Chair Dustin Hager said of his own children, “I have two kindergarten students, and in the morning, they put their coats on, put their masks on and away they go. I think (mask wearing) is more accepted by them than with my 14-year old.”

The board also voted to adopt an updated calendar for the remainder of the current school year.

The calendar was developed after McNeff, administrators and board members solicited feedback from teachers and students.

The new calendar will go into effect Monday, Feb. 1.

The calendar will add a fifth day to eight school weeks, with seven Fridays devoted to professional learning days from February through May.

In addition to having days for staff development and training built in, the calendar also includes storm days.

The new calendar will include some scheduling adjustments, such as allowing for special classes such as music to take place in elementary classrooms.

Other elements of previous schedules would remain the same, such as having elementary lunch periods in classrooms. Alternating instructional periods for high school students in a block schedule would also stay the same.

McNeff said he had observed a lag in academic test scores in Rugby students early in the fall due to the scheduling changes caused by the global pandemic, however, he noted, students had “bounced back.”

“We looked at our math scores. Early data says it appears at this point, based on the data, there’s not a lot of learning loss (among students). Kids seem to be bouncing back,” McNeff said.

“I know there’s lots of talk in the national media about kids being behind because of the pandemic. At least at this point, based on math data that I’ve looked at early, most kids have bounced back. Early on, we looked at our fall (test scores). They looked a little bit low,” McNeff added. “But it appears at this point, we’re bouncing back, so that’s good to see.”

The board approved the updated calendar with a unanimous vote.

Other discussion turned to the impact a vaccine would have on the schools and policies. Educators are included in a lower-priority group in phase 1B of a state plan to immunize various populations against COVID. As of late January, persons 75 and older, the group with the highest priority in the phase, were receiving the vaccine.

McNeff reported about 60 RPS personnel had signed up to be on the phase 1B waiting list.

Looking ahead to next year’s calendar, McNeff told the board, “When you think about next year, it’ll open a can of worms, but (COVID) is still going to be there. How are we going to approach this?”

“The health department would provide guidance, because ultimately, you’ll have some people who are never going to get vaccinated and what would that mean for our population when we have 50 percent of our students, 50 percent of our staff (vaccinated) and you still have to hold up these mandates and these quarantines,” McNeff added.

“There’s going to be a lot of policy we’re going to have to look at. When you think about staffing for example, if you refuse a vaccine, should you be able to tap into COVID leave?” McNeff asked.

“So,” McNeff added, “We’ve got a lot of things to consider down the road related to the vaccine. It’s going to take time to figure this out.”

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