March 17, 2020
Schools will be closed through March 27th.
BELLE FOURCE- The Belle Fourche School District called a special school board meeting on Monday evening, March 16th, primarily to discuss plans of action related to the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak.
Although few cases have been reported in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem has called for a state of emergency and the district is following guidance from the SD State Dept. of Health in making near-term decisions.
Here is a synopsis of what was discussed and decided:
How long will school be out?
The school closure is temporary. At this point the district expects to resume classes in the buildings during this school year.
Schools will be closed through March 27th. This could be extended depending on guidance from the governor’s office.
Will my child have access to alternative teaching?
Yes. Schoolteachers and administrators are meeting on Tuesday, March 17th to finalize distance-learning plans. For high school and most middle school students who have access to their devices, an on-line curriculum will be implemented. For younger middle school students who typically do not take their learning devices home there will also be curriculum available. For the youngest students, individual teachers will be in contact with parents regarding distance learning.
“Most of our teachers are prepared for this as our students use and take home their devices every day so I feel we’re ready for the situation,” said High School Principal Matthew Raba.
“In a lot of ways this (distance learning curriculum) will be a good thing for my teachers,” said Middle School Principal Kevin Schmit. “To me it’s an exciting challenge because I’m been pushing for my whole staff to get to this point anyway. And now we have to get there.”
Elementary Principal Julie Hatling says she has been in touch with other area elementary principals in formulating an effective method for distance learning among the early grade levels who do not have computers to take home or would lean heavily on parents to facilitate distance learning. “We will rely a lot on the creativity of our teachers to determine what their individual students can handle,” she said. “It will be distance learning and not e-learning at the K-2 level. But we may be able to send math pages and reading materials out to 3rd and 4th graders. We have some really solid digital software that we can use. I’m confident our teachers will come up with some great ideas this week.”
Special Education Director Caleb Case expects his staff to work with the general education staff in working on a framework for distance learning. “I think a majority of our students could complete work that is modified using foundations that are laid with our general ed staff,” he said. For learning impaired students Case says his instructors will take the lead in developing and delivering individual packets tailored to the student’s specific learning situations and goals. “We’ll be communicating with parents a lot,” he added.
What if I don’t have internet access at my home?
Provisions are being made to accommodate homes without internet access. If someone you know would fall into this category please let them know to call the school district for options after Wednesday, March 18th. The district will be in touch with Spectrum, Midco and Vast to work out options.
Will these days be made up at the end of the year?
It is possible. That decision will be evaluated after classes resume and the district has had a chance to assess how successful the e-learning program was. The state may waive the minimum number of teacher-student contact days, which would provide districts some leeway in making this decision.
What about public graduation ceremonies?
Public graduation ceremonies are still on. The district is not anticipating cancellation or postponement. But during the emergency closure situation parents and families should be aware that anything could change.
What about meals for students?
Meals will be provided weekdays and weekends during the closure. The school district was proactive in successfully applying to feed students during the school closure. According to BFSD Business Manager Susan Proefrock, in working with the school’s vendor, Lunchtime Solutions, meals were to be provided Monday through Thursdays during the closure. On Monday, March 16th approximately 75 students were provided with breakfast and lunch sack meals. The application was then successfully updated to provide meals for students Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well. When parents, with their children, show up for the distribution on Fridays, breakfast and lunch sack meals for Saturday and Sunday will also be distributed. The Belle Fourche District was the first in the area to receive the authorization for such meal distribution due to mandated school closure. Proefrock expects they may eventually feed up to 200 students per day.
“It’s really a win-win,” said Superintendent Willard. “We have coolers full of milk and perishable items and now we will be able to distribute them to students in the community.”
What if a parent cannot make it to the school to pick up the meals?
Call the district and arrangements can be made for delivery. The district advises that parents cannot simply show up and say they need meals for their children. They must have the children with them at time of pick or delivery.
Will the school buildings be cleaned during the closure?
Yes. Teachers will have Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17-18 to prepare for their distance learning curriculum delivery. After 3:30pm on Wednesday the buildings will be closed to students, teachers and the public. Only essential approved personnel will be allowed in until the schools re-open. Cleaning crews are in the buildings now doing a deep cleaning. They will then come back through and disinfect all surfaces. The process should be completed by Saturday, March 21st.
“It may seem a bit strange to be cleaning the buildings for a virus that as far as we know we don’t have yet,” Willard said. “But, we’ll also be killing Influenza-A and B at the same time. I’m always looking for the silver lining in things.”
What about school activities?
School activities are either cancelled or postponed during the school closure. It is expected that the upcoming prom will need to be rescheduled with details to be released soon. Monitor the school Facebook page and website for updates.
Athletic activities will be eligible to resume April 6th unless conditions change. “We have a lot of kids who are really interested in track season that would really be disappointed if we can’t have that. I’ll be communicating with coaches and doing what we can to keep the kids’ morale up,” said Activities Director Adam Nowowiejski.
Nowowiejski adds that the rule requiring at least 10 days of practice prior to the opening of a season will likely be waived, allowing track meets to resume right away when given the go-ahead.
Will hourly school employees be paid during the school closure?
Yes. After a 45-minute discussion the school board voted unanimously that hourly support staff be paid. These include secretaries, janitorial staff, para-professionals and bus drivers, to name a few. A motion made by Board Member Jean Helmer and seconded by Wayne Gilbert was passed unanimously. It read as follows: A motion that support staff will be paid at their regular rate for their regularly scheduled hours during the state-mandated closure of the schools during the COVID-19 emergency.
Discussion on how to pay needed support staff in the event that the school year is extended ensued. Willard indicated that the school does have contingency funds and it was also mentioned that there could, at that time, be federal or state support dollars available, should the need arise.
What about statewide student testing?
Student testing was to begin this month but currently the district is joining with other schools to request that the testing window slide to later in the year. It is possible that testing may be underway during the month of May. This would ideally give teachers several school days after classes resume to prepare their students for testing before jumping right in to test taking. It also gives time for teachers to train in testing methods and test security measures.
According to Willard, other area school superintendents are asking him what Belle Fourche is deciding to do, indicating the district has taken positive, proactive action during the virus emergency. Raba says that parents should pay attention to the school’s Facebook page and website and be prepared for a few all-call phone messages in the days ahead. School Board Chairman Tammy Clem says another special school board meeting next week may be needed as the crisis evolves.