School board hears COVID updates

    The October meeting of the Steelville School Board, held on Thursday, October 15, included discussion on several topics that were connected to COVID-19 concerns. School personnel talked about restrictions to sporting events, current quarantine numbers, parent-teacher conferences, a Halloween event and more—all with the ongoing pandemic dictating changes in how situations are handled.

    Superintendent Mike Whittaker noted that attendance restrictions for sporting events is ongoing, but varies, dependent upon the opposing teams involved and their school’s rules. The state cross country meet will be spread out over three days this year, and there are very specific requirements on when athletes are required to wear masks. On the other hand, Whittaker reported Steelville is planning to have more tickets available for people to attend both middle and high school games.
    However, he cautioned, “Just when you think you can let up a little, you have something like yesterday—from yesterday to today, at the high school, we have 24 quarantined, and 30 over all in the district. And the majority are school-related.”
    Whittaker informed the board about some school districts who were utilizing the classification of teachers as essential workers to shorten quarantine time to 72 hours but noted that does involve risk and some liability. He was clear that he was not recommending that Steelville adopt that policy at this time.
    “I am not willing to do that now,” he said. “Just know there are guidelines out there that could allow that.” It would be a decision to discuss with the health department as well.
    He told the board, “We do regularly communicate with our health department. They’re always there. We’ve been fortunate with the support we’ve received from our county health department and we are constantly looking for ways to improve.”
    Whittaker informed the board the district is tracking how many students who are placed on quarantine subsequently contract the virus. He reported that one area school who has had more students quarantined than Steelville has yet to have one of those become ill with COVID-19.
    Regarding annual parent/teacher conferences, Whittaker told the board, “We decided it wasn’t worth the risk to be face-to-face with people. We don’t want to get to point where we can’t have school because our staff members are sick.”
    He noted teachers will be contacting parents—and some have already started making calls—to discuss students’ progress, adding that this procedure may actually provide more contact with parents as parent/teacher conferences are very well attended at the elementary, there are some who go to the middle school, but attendance is sparse at the high school.
    “This is just a different way of trying to achieve the same results,” he said.
    Another change in school events is to celebrate Halloween. In year’s past, the elementary has held trick-or-treat nights in the building, and the city of Steelville has hosted Pumpkin Village for community children. With concerns about maintaining social distancing at these kinds of events, and the city canceling theirs, the school district determined to host a drive-through Halloween event on Friday, October 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “Spookyville” will be set up on the downtown campus.
    “We felt like we needed to do something—a community event,” Whittaker said. “We wanted to do something this year where kids could stay in cars.”
    Administrators also reported there are now fewer kids utilizing the virtual school option than at the start of the year. Although the intent had been to require students to remain in the selected setting for a full quarter, some had been returned to the in-school setting for various reasons on a case-by-case basis, with all decisions made for the benefit of a student’s particular educational needs.
    Director of Learning Matt Hammonds reported the state has realized that existing curriculum standards are just too difficult for the current environment, and is now looking at power standards, or “heavy hitters,” for the state level. He noted those are currently in draft form and are scheduled to be finalized at the end of October. However, as far as state assessments, he reported it is “business as usual so far.”
    In his role as A+ Coordinator, Hammonds noted there are questions about attendance requirements, and it looks as though students will still need to utilize the appeals process if they miss too many days, in spite of the encouragement to stay home if ill because of coronavirus concerns.

The Steelville School District is posting a Weekly COVID-19 Update on its website. As of Friday, October 16, there were a total of 33 students and staff quarantined—30 students, and three staff members. Of the two positive cases reported, one was a student and the other a staff member. These numbers are the highest represented since reporting began on September 18. The school’s weekly reports can be found online at under the “COVID updates” tab.