First look: PCSD finalizes plans for opening school

Perryville High School principal Jeff Steffens addresses the Perry County School District Board during a special work session Wednesday to finalize plans for reopening district schools on Aug. 26. During the session, administrators from the primary center, elementary school, middle school, and high school presented their plans for each individual building. (Republic-Monitor/JUSTIN HOTOP)

Robert Cox

The Perry County School District board held a special public work session Wednesday to finalize the district's plans for reopening school this fall while the nation is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PCSD — along with other schools in the county — plan to formally announce their final plan on Monday, Aug. 3.

PCSD Superintendent Andy Comstock said Wednesday there is no perfect plan for reopening the campus for classes.

“I don’t think there is a best plan," Comstock said, "other than coming to school every day with no masks and no COVID-19 precautions. But we are not in that place right now.”

During Wednesday's meeting, board members and staff outlined and discussed plans ranging from classroom attendance to transportation issues, masks, and lunch.

Some parents who attended Wednesday's meeting were less than thrilled with the board's plan and didn't hesitate to share their opinions.



"With children from primary to high school and with support of many members of the community that I know personally, we do not support this plan," said Greg Hill, who addressed the board during Wednesday's meeting and later shared his statement on Facebook. "We don't live in fear, and shouldn't set the standard for our kids like this. Prepare, yes we should, but we shouldn't pretend this is more harmful than it really is."

During the course of the session, administrators from the primary center, elementary school, middle school, and high school presented their plans for each individual building.

Based on discussion at Wednesday's work session, the district plans to offer two options for students, “Pirates on Campus” or “Pirates at Home.” 

In broad strokes, the on campus option for grades K-5 will feature a blended format with the students in the classroom four days a week, Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday. On Wednesday, the students will receive instruction online.

For grades 6-12, the campus option will be more of a split "A-B" schedule, with students divided into two groups at each grade level. Students in the “A" will attend class on campus on Monday and Tuesday, while the “B” will attend classes on Thursday and Friday.

At each grade level, each group will have online instruction during the days they are not on campus. Siblings and family members will likely be put on the same day schedule.

The district plans to take advantage of the empty classrooms on Wednesdays to provide deeper, more thorough cleaning of facilities and to give teachers more chances to collaborate within the district.

Lunchtime will also look different at PCSD. Students in grades K-5 will eat in the classrooms, while those in grades 6-12 will eat lunch in their advisory time classroom.

The “Pirates at Home” option will be 100-percent online.

Both the Pirates at Home option and the planned online instruction on Wednesdays have drawn much discussion among board members, administrators and teachers, discussion centered mainly around the inability of some students to access the internet at home, either because of their rural addresses or financial issues.

In an effort to combat this problem during the early shutdown in March, the district placed eight buses throughout the county with Wi-Fi capability. This fall, the district will increase the number to 20, aided by funds received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. In addition to serving as Wi-Fi hotspots, the buses will allow students to access the internet while the bus is moving as they travel to and from school.

Comstock repeatedly stressed the most important aspect of the school day would be transportation and getting the kids to school safely.

Transportation director Sarah Orf told board members that buses will be cleaned after each use and the buses will have a deeper clean on Wednesdays.

Because social distancing is more difficult in the enclosed space of a school bus, all students who ride the bus will be expected to wear masks, students will be seated from back to front, and siblings and family members will sit together.

Masks are to be worn by students as they walk to their classroom in the morning and anytime they are in the hallway, but will be optional inside the classroom — for students. Teachers are expected to wear a mask when in close contact with students.

Masks are not required if a student has a medical exemption.

“Our goal was to do things that would lessen our kids' time for wearing masks to minutes, not hours,” Comstock said.

PCSD's plans for reopening were developed in accordance with guidance issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Health and Senior Services. In May, DESE issued a 140-page document titled “Pandemic Recovery Consideration: Re-Entry and Reopening of Schools,” which contains more thorough and detailed information for school leaders to review and consider when developing their local plans for returning to onsite teaching and learning, including recommendations for wearing face coverings by staff and students. A list of answers to frequently asked questions was also issued by DESE.

"Face coverings are an important strategy to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus, primarily by reducing the spread of infection from the wearer to those around," the document reads, while also stating that young children should be expected to wear masks for long periods of time. "Face coverings should be considered for all age groups during periods when students ... cannot physically distance. It is also appropriate for all students to wear masks or face coverings while riding the bus."

In his Facebook post, Hill said wearing face-coverings should be a choice.

"I do not support any of these options and want my kids back at school five days a week, no mask requirements," Hill said. "If you want to wear one, do that. Choice should be the only option!"

The first day of school at PCSD is set for Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Justin Hotop of the Republic-Monitor staff contributed information for this article.


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