The Gasconade County R-1 Board of Education has voted to allow students to continue in extracurricular activities as scheduled, even if the district decides to move into full virtual learning mode.
The board took the action in a 4-2 roll-call vote, following a regular meeting held last Thursday night in the school's administrative conference room. In-person classes began in the district on Aug. 24, with the option of distance learning open to students. The vote occurred after an explanation by Superintendent Dr. Scott Smith of the unique challenges posed by the pandemic, and board members discussing the pros and cons.
Members Jeff Englert, Mike Pratte, Tim Schulte, and Kevin Stiers voted to allow high school students to continue their participation in extracurriculars should the district have to go totally virtual for classwork. Members Dot Schoening and Becky Whithaus voted no. Board President Mark Brooks was not present for the meeting, with Schoening -- as board vice president -- presiding in his absence.
Smith told the Advertiser-Courier on Monday afternoon that five high school students have tested positive for COVID-19, and with one middle school student testing positive for the virus. As of last Thursday, administrators were reporting there were a total of 161 students and three staff members in quarantine. One high school event that had been scheduled for last week, induction of new National Honor Society members, as postponed due to coronavirus concerns. An area Future Farmers of America conference set for tomorrow night was moved from Hermann to Sullivan, said High School Principal Chip Stutzman.
"We're going to need some direction from our board" on the disposition of school events, said Smith on the potential impact from the quarantines. "We were close last week (Aug. 31-Sept. 4), with our high school. We were at 58 percent (attendance)."
He asked the board members to consider whether to allow students to participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities if the district chooses to move into virtual learning due to a virus outbreak. Smith said the decision could be made now, or could wait -- but pointed out that it was a certainty to come up as an issue sometime during the school year. Teachers and coaches alike, he said, are taking virus precautions very seriously.
"This is a tough call," he told the board, with his own belief that the activities should continue even if the district has to implement distance learning. "It's really, in my mind, (to affect only) high school....That is something that very likely could be coming our way."
Schulte made a motion to allow high school students to participate in the activities, if there is any future switchover to distance learning. Englert seconded the motion.
Schoening said that while she loves sports, "academics come first." But Englert, who is board secretary, defended his vote.
"I don't want to deprive our kids of that," he said. "We'll never go to the point where we won't have academics first."
In other developments related to COVID-19, Smith said some students have been involved in teaching virtually to classmates who must serve quarantine.
"They are going the extra mile," he said, noting that even kindergarten classes are learning about and adapting to the importance of social distancing.
The entire high school is being opened up by staff if good weather allows, he continued. Building principals praised teachers for their time, efforts, and creativity displayed during the pandemic.
The quarantines are being done in accordance with federal, state, and local health regulations, Smith said, adding that the Gasconade County Health Department has legal authority to call for quarantines for confirmed cases. County Health Director Greg Lara, who attended the board meeting, praised the district's efforts.
"It's a day-to-day thing," said Smith of how the schools have been coping with the virus. "It's tough. In the long run, the kids will learn."
The district has a re-entry plan, adopted by the board in early July, that covers contingencies related to the pandemic.