The Maple School Board voted at a Thursday, Dec. 10, special board meeting to return to in-person classes Jan. 4.
The district administration had recommended returning Monday, Dec. 14, when classes first moved to virtual learning. The board discussed the issue in-depth before the vote. The board voted 5-2 to extend virtual learning to Jan. 4, with Board President Nancy Lind and board member Adam Landwehr opposed.
The board made the decision to move to all-online learning Nov. 16 because of high staff absences related to COVID-19 cases and quarantine. Staffing numbers have returned to normal, Superintendent Sara Croney said, with only three teachers currently on quarantine. When the board voted to shutter school buildings, there were 22 educators out.
“We are essential,” Croney said of schools. “We can open because we do have staffing.”
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Some board members urged returning to in-person classes Monday for the mental health of students and because many children are struggling with learning under the online format. In a letter to the district, Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi said she supported returning to in-person instruction when possible.
Other board members were concerned that opening buildings up during a high level of COVID-19 activity in the county could expose some teachers to hundreds of students. Board member Brian Johnson wondered how many parents would even send their children back as there are only seven days before holiday break.
A number of school officials were split on the decision, including the administration team. On a staff survey, roughly 60% of teachers who responded reported they did not feel comfortable returning to in-person classes, Croney said.
“I feel, again, there’s no good answer,” board member Rachel Zwicky said. “Whatever we decide, there are a lot of cons.”
The decision to continue with all-online learning led to the need for additional action items. The board approved a motion allowing support staff who are unable to work during online-only schooling to continue to use other methods, including sick days or going on unemployment, to make up those hours.
The board also voted to continue the current restrictions on fans at athletic events. No spectators from away teams will be allowed at games, and each Tiger athlete will be allowed to have two spectators attend. In addition, outside groups will not be able to use district facilities until in-person classes resume Jan. 4.
Croney requested that the board redefine her authority if a high number of teacher absences makes it necessary to cancel school. The board voted in November to let Croney close up to one school for one week without board approval, but with that measure still in place, Croney said she was restricted to those parameters.
Johnson said Croney should have the ability to close school at any building or district-wide for a day without their approval, similar to the authority she has to close school for a snow day or if a piece of equipment breaks down.
The board voted to rescind its previous one school for one week policy.
The full meeting can be viewed online; it begins roughly 19 minutes into the video.