MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Maryville R-II Board of Education voted 4-3 to stay with the current hybrid system used at the high school to help with social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit with some necessary changes and only until Thanksgiving break.
Those voting against: Josh McKim, Frank Grispino and Elaine Wilson, noting some of the reason being the way virtual days and Fridays are being handled, and the social distancing and masking guidelines themselves. However, they also discussed ways to improve and add instructional time.
Grispino’s main argument was with regard to the district adhering to what he called the conflicting science and data regarding social distancing, masks and quarantine guidance.
“What happens if we don’t follow the guidance?” he asked.
Superintendent Becky Albrecht said the health department could get a court order, though she’s followed up and believes them to be reluctant to do it.
“If we deviate from their guidance then who’s going to come get us?” asked McKim.
Albrecht said the problem hasn’t been tested and as to whether or not the district’s insurance would cover any lawsuits brought against the district is unknown. Right now, she said the district’s self-insurance provider, MOPERM’s, stance is that there would be individual liability that would be very hard to try.
“But my stance is I don’t know that I want to be the test case for that and bankrupt the district to fight it,” she said. “... I, just as a professional in charge of about 1,500 lives and then when you add staff another 200 and some, I don’t want to go out on a limb and say I know more than the local health department, the state department of health, DESE and the CDC. I’m not comfortable with saying that.”
She explained that to get an idea where parents, students and staff members stand, the district sent out a survey to find out which method of instruction they feel most comfortable with at this point.
Albrecht told board members that in each group surveyed, they preferred to continue with the hybrid system.
Maryville High School Principal Thom Alvarez said the district received about 280 responses from 479 households.
Of that 58 percent response, Albrecht said 54 percent of parents were in favor of the hybrid system.
Though the number of parents in favor is not overwhelming, 71 percent of students responded in favor of the hybrid system, many of whom sent along letters and comments expressing the preference as a help to their mental state.
“You listen to these young adults who are articulate and understand the world; they say hybrid is not what they want to do, but the mental part of coming to school facing the possibilities of quarantine is so impactful on their mental health, their ability to engage in academics, their ability to go through their day in a positive manner, that’s what affected me,” Alvarez said. “It’s our job to advocate for the students and overwhelmingly they’re saying, ‘If they’re faced with the rules of quarantine, hybrid is the answer for us.’ They know it’s affecting their education.”
Albrecht said the number of quarantine cases has begun to increase recently. Within the week she expects the number to increase substantially due to a case the district knows is being traced, though she further stated that the district has not had one high school student quarantined from school day related activities since moving to the hybrid system. For those who have been quarantined, the contact has occurred outside of the school day, during extracurricular activities or during their own time.
McKim questioned whether the district should continue the hybrid system for all students just for 15-20 percent of the student population who is out for quarantine.
“That still bothers me,” he said. “I’m all for (extracurricular activities), but we’re about education first and foremost and we’re impacting the educational experience for the vast majority of our students because we have 15, maybe 20 percent being impacted. I don’t understand why we would do that.”
Albrecht said that number would be much higher if classes had been in full session. Teachers also would see an increased workload having to teach those students quarantined as well as the students in the classroom, while also helping with a higher rate of contact tracing.
She has heard from some parents who feel their children are just hitting their stride and that what they really want is some consistency.
“I think for me, it’s more of a consistency issue, it’s more of a balance,” said board member Kelley Baldwin. She explained that parents have reached out to her about various issues, some with regard to heavy and light workloads for their students during the off days.
The board discussed a number of things that were not working as well during the student off days, including those who are overwhelmed with a lot of work, and some who don’t have enough.
Albrecht explained that the same could be said for students in the classroom, with some students being higher achievers than others.
The board suggested perhaps teachers could offer a live video of their classes online so students could view the lessons in their off days, thereby offering consistency, and helping teachers only teach one day of each lesson. They could then answer questions from those students who viewed after the fact.
“You get really caught up in those equitable experiences,” Albrecht said.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Klotz told the board that the video and sound being offered is being run through a $275 Google Chromebook, not major video equipment and sound from that laptop, not a lapel microphone. Without a separate person who could watch the stream to make sure it’s working and for any student with a question, that video would likely be very lacking in instructional value.
He estimated the cost to purchase tracking cameras and lapel mics would be somewhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per classroom.
McKim said with Nodaway County offering CARES Act funding, it wouldn’t hurt the district to request funds.
“It’s worth an ask,” he said.
Albrecht told board members that another problem may arise, with regard to teachers being required to respond to students throughout the night. She suggested at some point, that will begin to wear on them.
Alvarez said that instructors have noticed that many of the students aren’t sending messages during they day, but during the evening from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. He said that’s leading them to believe that a lot of the work isn’t getting done during the daytime hours.
With the main focus of the discussion being centered on how to improve the off day instruction, Alvarez said he and Assistant Principal Bryan Grow along with other staff, did come up with a couple options to help provide more and better instruction on Fridays.
The first option involved rolling in-person classes on Fridays. So the alternating hybrid schedule would just roll through including Fridays. This would allow students another day with teachers every other Friday, offering five in-person days out of every 10.
In the second option each class will be held for 30 minutes in the morning, followed by a break for teachers for lunch and then a 50-minute planning period. After that and until the school day ends, teachers will be available to be contacted by students.
“We need to do a better job on their off days and on their virtual days,” said Alvarez. “We’re trying to build this plane while we’re flying.”
Other ideas tossed around by the board included splitting Friday, to have one color group have in-person classes in the morning and the other group in the afternoon.
Alvarez said that possibility had been discussed, but the logistics of running two full bus routes per day, sanitizing in between the groups and figuring out how to serve lunch were difficult and costly.
The board voted to continue teaching with the hybrid system, but selected the second option to improve Friday’s instruction. This will give the students 10 in person classes and four virtual Fridays until Thanksgiving break starts.