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School Every-Other-Day Could Make Social Distancing Possible In Missouri Classrooms

Submitted photo
North Kansas City Schools
A student in the North Kansas City Schools wears a face mask on the first day of summer school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend masks for children two years of age and older, and pediatricians say wearing masks will help with social distancing in schools.

Missouri school districts that blend in-person and remote learning because of the pandemic won’t face funding penalties related to attendance.

The State Board of Education passed two emergency rules Tuesday establishing how schools that opt for hybrid instruction models will be paid during the 2020-21 school year. The emergency rules pave the way for districts to release their plans for reopening schools.

Deputy Education Commissioner Kari Monsees said the new rules allow states to build on the contingency plans they already have for snow days and other short-term school closures.

“I don’t think the authors of the statute envisioned anything like COVID-19,” Monsees said.

Under the new rules, school districts will be allowed to have students attend school every other day and learn remotely on alternating days. Or, schools can have one group of students attend in the morning and another in the afternoon.

“The primary purpose of such an approach would be to better support physical distancing both at school and while transporting students,” Monsees said.

Transportation is one of the areas where keeping students at least six feet apart is impractical, if not impossible. Even if students are required to wear masks, pediatricians recommend that schools avoid filling buses beyond half-capacity, adding additional work for districts already struggling to hire enough drivers.

But by dividing students into two groups to attend class on alternating days, schools might be able to maintain adequate social distancing on buses.

For accounting purposes, attendance will only be counted on days when students are scheduled to attend school for in-person instruction. Assistant Education Commissioner Chris Neale said students will need to be on-site at least two days each week.

The emergency rule will also allow remote instruction if schools or districts have to close because of coronavirus spread in their community, or if a group of students needs to isolate for 14 days.

Monsees added that schools will also be able to submit other plans as needed, like if districts that serve military communities need to comply with 14-day mandatory quarantines as families arrive at a new base.

“How are we going to measure the education effectiveness?” asked Peter Herschend, who represents Branson on the state board. “I hear the accounting side, and I’m for it, but I worry about how well kids are going to be educated.”

Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven explained that Missouri has allocated $10 million from the CARES Act to create assessments to gauge COVID-19 learning loss and determine what worked and what didn’t work during the pandemic.

But Vandeven warned that it will be up to local communities to put the pressure on school boards to create rigorous, remote learning opportunities for students.

“As a local control state, we don’t go into classrooms. I can’t with great certainty tell you that I’ll be able to tell you what’s happening with every one of these plans.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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