The re-opening plans for Stillwater Public Schools is a work in progress, but for now, its leadership is on board with requiring face coverings.

Superintendent Marc Moore briefed the school board last week on the reopening plans, including updates on distance learning possibilities and student and teacher safety. The week before the school released its initial progress report for re-opening, which didn’t include a mask mandate. A new requirement wasn’t made policy during the meeting, but Moore said they are scheduling more conversations to get feedback and that they had created a COVID-19 task force that includes school administrators and medical professionals throughout the community.

“… I know this is a controversial decision, but really as a district we should start moving to when and where we can require a face mask … If we’re going to keep safety at the forefront of our staff and students, this needs to be the overall direction that we do into our planning,” Moore told the board. “I know this does not come without some complexities, but we have a group in our task force that I think can work through some of those issues. Going to ask our COVID-19 task force to expedite work on policy requiring face masks in light of increase viral spread in Stillwater. I’m also going to ask this committee to include consideration for students’ age, special needs and health concerns, exceptions based on environment surroundings … and guidelines on when to remove the requirement.”

The individual board members were in unanimous agreement with Moore’s desire to require face coverings.

“The masks have to be required,” member Camille DeYong said. “If somebody doesn’t want their kid to wear a mask, then they’re going to choose the online option, and that’s just my opinion.”

Board Vice President Mitsi Andrews said she was immunocompromised and was aware that teachers and students across the district were also at higher risk.

“I’ve seen the spread of this disease in our community,” Andrews said. “We cannot social distance on the buses, we cannot social distance in the classroom. The only way I can see for us to hold in-person classes is if we make masks a mandate.”

President Bob Graalman agreed, saying in essence that the school would be better off begin overprotective.

“You don’t want to be late coming to this,” he said. “You can be early and then backtrack as things become safer. What you don’t want is to say it’s optional when school starts and then in October you have to shut the whole operation down. Then people would say, ‘Why didn’t you do that in the first place?’ I honestly think we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now if the spike hadn’t have occurred over the last two weeks.”

Board member Tim Riley was among the first to begin nodding his head when Moore first began talking about the possible requirement.

“I'm thrilled we’re all in agreement on this,” he said. “It’s not about you who are really healthy, that are going to baseball tournaments, it’s not about you. It’s about the other person who may not be in a position to be able to fight the disease as well. We have to protect each other and we have a duty to every kid in the district and the only way to protect them is to follow the CDC guidelines.”

Distance Learning

The school board also heard updates on distance learning, or virtual learning or other alternatives to in-person teaching. Moore said it’s likely that distance learning will be implemented long-term and not just for shutdowns and replied to criticism for the software Edgenuity and whether local instructors could be part of the distance learning options.

“I think our approach to it …. is let’s get this base level that we know we can commit to,” Moore said. “If we get into the planning and we find some opportunities to expand that distance learning where it may be rather than Edgenuity, so it may we have an Algebra I class that we need 25, we have a teacher trained in online software, we’d much rather have that connected with those 25 in Algebra I,” he said. “What we’re running into a little bit unknown, if we have 12 students here, and we have maybe 5 in this class, how do we maneuver where we’re also trying to balance that teaching from the online sites. We will look for those opportunities. We did not want to commit to that without 100 percent knowing we can do it.”

Assistant Superintendent Cathy Walker said it really boils down to the number of children needing to take certain classes.

“… if there is a way for us to provide a class – and it just depends on the number of kids and what they’re enrolling in – we certainly wan’t to use our teachers in this program,” Walker said. “As we get better at distance learning and online learning and can develop our own curriculum that way, we certainly could be able to move forward with that in the future. In the timeline we were given to put all of this together and get teachers trained – and as you know things are continuously chaining daily – this is our best work to moving forward to start the new school year. Does that mean our work ends? No. We will keep working to find the best alternative for our kids, work to develop that curriculum and even look at a different instructional platform a more robust platform in the future but as Dr. Moore stated, we were trying to use what our teachers had experience with and what we could train very quickly over the summer.”

Moore said they are planning several more meetings to gather feedback before putting a final policy before the board. He also said they have collected more than a hundred questions from the community that staff is sorting through.

Future staff engagement includes:

• Conducting a staff and parent survey prior to finalizing return to school plan

• A public forum prior to finalizing return to school plan

• Back to School Conversation meetings until the start of school

• Conduct weekly meetings with staff to provide updates, receive feedback and respond to questions

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