Students in Gasconade County R-1 schools will have two extra days out of class for Thanksgiving week as a means of helping with individuals' recoveries from the coronavirus.

That 5-0 decision was made during a regular school board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 12, in the high school auditorium. Board President Mark Brooks and member Mike Pratte were unable to attend the meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Smith explained the district is currently on pace to have 1,156 instructional hours, with the state requiring 1,044 hours of classtime from the district for this academic year. He recommended the board approve an adjustment to the school calendar, to allow students and staff to have Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, as days off -- along with Wednesday, Nov. 25, through Friday, Nov. 27, for Thanksgiving break.

Smith said the move would provide a full nine days for the break, time which he said would be useful in allowing more extended recoveries to those diagnosed with covid-19. He said the extra days could also be a way of removing the need for some students and staff to serve a quarantine because of the virus. He said some other area school districts have chosen this alternative due to their circumstances with coronavirus. A state supervisor must still give assent to the calendar change, he added.

"It's really going to be a cost savings," said Smith, noting the lack of running buses and utilities with no school in session for the two extra days. "Our staff, our students, have gone through a heck of a year."

The district has had to rely more heavily on substitute teachers to help it manage school days during the pandemic, according to Smith, who said a shutdown of the system has been a close call.

"Substitutes is a major issue for us," he told the board. "I think we've got a perfect storm going," he added of covid's impact to the district and potential for further consequences to its operations.

Yet making the calendar adjustment for Thanksgiving week should help Hermann schools make it to Christmas without having to resort to a shutdown and transfer over to virtual learning, Smith said. 

"I feel very strongly about this," he said.

Among other coronavirus-related actions and reports, the board unanimously voted to declare the school nurses as essential personnel. Smith said the action means the nurses can continue to report for work, even in instances of quarantine -- in which they would be allowed to go to and from work while overnighting at home.

Smith said the district is implementing an amended face mask policy in line with a recent announcement from Gov. Mike Parson on requiring masks in schools. He termed it as good news for Hermann's schools.

"I feel like that's a huge benefit....We will be emphasizing the correct usage of a mask," he said, with students cautioned to ensure they are properly wearing their masks to cover the nose and mouth. Lack of compliance will be treated as a dress-code violation, and enforcement will also cover repeat violators. The district's staff will be monitoring elementary students for proper wearing and cleaning of masks, he added.

The district has shown some improvement in reducing its quarantine numbers, said Smith. Families and guardians are being asked to monitor children for symptoms. It's hoped such vigilance will allow students to remain in school, he continued, with some high school students already going through at least three quarantines.

Since the school year began in August, Smith said the district has had four elementary students test positive for the virus. He said it's believed transmission of the virus is primarily not occurring at the schools, but rather in the community at large.