Joplin High School students could soon return to in-person classes five days per week if the Board of Education approves a proposal to phase out the split schedule that has been in use since August due to the pandemic.

"The percentage of students and teachers who have tested positive (for COVID-19) or have had to quarantine is at the lowest point this school year, with local data also showing a marked improvement," Principal Steve Gilbreth said in documentation prepared for the board's Tuesday meeting. "With the current trend in numbers, the administration is ready to begin a reentry process."

The reentry plan would implement a staggered schedule for high school students to return to traditional in-person classes over the course of the next month.

Under the schedule, the freshman class would return to the high school full time on Monday, March 1. The sophomore class would follow on Monday, March 8; the junior class on Monday, March 15; and the senior class on Monday, March 29, after spring break.

"The phase-in by week will give time to make sure there is not a spike in numbers of positive cases," administrators said.

Since the start of the academic year in August, Joplin High School students have been on a split schedule wherein approximately half of the student body attends in-person classes on any given day while the remaining half relies on remote learning. The schedule was implemented in order to keep students safely distanced in the building, Gilbreth has said.

Administrators have closely monitored local COVID-19 cases, as well as cases within the school district, and had previously prepared guidance for returning the high school to a traditional schedule. That guidance, which was never formally approved by the board, relied on district and community COVID-19 numbers remaining under certain thresholds indicating the spread, or lack thereof, of infection.

In documentation prepared for the board, administrators now say that the number of students and teachers who have been quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19 has fallen below 1%, which would indicate low transmission within the building.

Numbers in the city of Joplin also are improving. As of Tuesday of last week, there were 50 active cases of the virus reported among Joplin residents, the city's health director told the City Council. Local hospitals had 36 virus patients admitted, with nine of those from Joplin. The seven-day average of cases was at 7.43 per day compared with 43 per day recorded after the holidays; the high was 52.

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.