UPDATE: On a deadlocked vote Wednesday, the state board of education failed to endorse and thereby invalidated the governor's order to delay the start of classes.
Marion County school districts are just a month from their planned start to fall classes, but that date is in jeopardy after Monday’s order by Governor Laura Kelly to postpone classes until Sept. 8.
Centre superintendent Susan Beeson supports the decision because it would provide districts three extra weeks to prepare.
However, she believes it comes with a heavy drawback in trying to complete the school year’s required classroom hours.
“I think the 1,116 hours is the major concern to get completed,” Beeson said Monday at a meeting of officials from all county schools. “The later we push that back, and then we have further disruptions or interruptions to the school year, we have more difficulty trying to get those hours in.”
While it is unclear who has authority on the matter, county health department director Diedre Serene thinks it is likely county commissioners will reject the governor’s order and leave it up to schools to decide.
Starting classes a week or two later might be a necessity because many school supplies have waiting periods of up to six weeks for shipping items, Marion superintendent Aaron Homburg said.
“Maybe we start everybody on the same date,” Homburg said. “We have to be together on this.”
Centre even is trying to get a new door for its building and will have to wait up to six weeks.
Several districts surveyed parents and teachers.
“I bet if I looked at your information it would be very similar to ours,” Hillsboro superintendent Max Heinrichs said. “Ours is that like 82% of people want to have school going and they want it to be on-site. Like 99% of our staff wants that on-site, so what do we have to do to get to the level where we can be as safe as possible?”
Students could be carriers who leave school with the virus, Beeson warned.
“The concern is that they take it home to the adults in the house,” she said. “That could be grandparents. That could be anyone.”
One way people can become infected is by touching a contaminated surface then touching their faces.
Centre’s school nurse counted how many times the school’s staff members touched their faces during a meeting earlier in the day. She found that the 11 people touched their faces 61 times during an hour-long meeting.
“How do we keep that mask on children,” Beeson said. “That mask is going to draw their hands to their faces.”
Elementary students may be in closer proximity for an extended period because of classroom set up. If a student tests positive, it might be prudent to immediately quarantine other students who sit nearby, Serene said.
School representatives expressed mixed feelings on whether taking temperatures was worthwhile. Heinrichs was skeptical of its value because sometimes people with COVID-19 don’t have fevers.
Heinrichs’ wife was one of Marion County’s early COVID-19 cases, but she exhibited very few symptoms.
“She never had a fever,” he said. “The only thing she had was that she lost taste and smell, and it was about four days.”
Centre plans to purchase a thermal camera for checking students as they enter its main entrance with two mobile stations for its side entrances.
Beeson also emphasized keeping elementary and high school students separate since all Centre students are in one building.
Middle and high school classes come and add additional concerns since students are rotating between classes, Heinrichs said.
“At the middle school and high school levels, where students are switching classes every hour or 45 minutes, should we wipe down all the desks between all the classes?” he said. “That’s a tricky one.”
Serene confirmed that all desks should be sprayed and wiped down between classes if possible.
One of Heinrichs’ biggest concerns was how to handle buses, where a large number of students often are packed in a confined space with little flexibility for social distancing.
Peabody-Burns middle and high school students will enter the school from three entrances to decrease traffic flow.
“I think we’ll do a really good job the first few weeks,” Peabody-Burns superintendent Ron Traxson said. “Then things get more relaxed, and that’s when you have to be really careful.”
County physician Don Hodson discouraged vocal performances unless students could maintain increased social distance of around 10 feet, face the same direction, or find a way to wear masks while singing.