Just two days after rejecting the Joplin School District's plan for reopening schools next month, the Board of Education is set to revisit the proposal.
The plan outlines requirements related to masks, social distancing, cleaning and contact tracing for K-12 students and employees as the school district prepares to start classes on Aug. 13, marking a return to full classes for the first time since the pandemic forced the closure of schools in mid-March. But board members on Tuesday night rejected the plan on a 3-3 vote because of disagreement over how to safely reopen Joplin High School, by far the district's largest school.
Administrators have recommended that Joplin High School students attend in-person classes during the fall semester every other day and use remote learning options when not physically in class, thereby reducing the student population on any given day by half. That split model is needed, according to Principal Steve Gilbreth, because there isn't a feasible way to ensure social distancing in the building with 2,300 students enrolled at the high school.
"Exposure (to the virus) could move through a larger group much quicker, especially in large classes where social distancing is not possible," high school administrators said in documentation provided to the board. "By reducing class sizes, teachers will have better opportunities to social distance, limiting their exposure. Worst-case scenario — higher exposures at school could end sporting and extracurricular events."
Students enrolled at Franklin Technology Center and students who are in the special education program or on an Individualized Education Program would be able to attend daily, under the proposal. Plans also would be made to ensure that students have access to breakfast or lunch from JHS on days when they are not physically at school.
Board President Sharrock Dermott and members Lori Musser and Michael Joseph supported the proposal, saying they wanted to err on the side of caution and safety. Board members Brent Jordan, Derek Gander and Jeff Koch supported a model that would require JHS students to return to five-day-a-week classes, saying that students need to be in class full time. Board member Debbie Fort was absent.
In other business during the board's regular meeting on Tuesday, board members authorized expenditures of nearly $80,000 for COVID-19-related items to help ensure that students can observe social distancing this year.
More than $28,700 will come from the capital outlay budget to purchase Lifetime brand folding tables and chairs from Sam's Club, the only bidder on the proposal.
The furniture is needed for some classrooms to provide adequate distancing opportunities for students, said Sarah Mwangi, assistant superintendent of learning services. It also could be repurposed in the future if events such as holiday parties, dances, fundraisers or PTA activities are able to be held again.
"This was a process of looking at where we needed to do some more spacing across the district and in classrooms," she said. "We are hopeful we will have school events at some point, and this will be a supply (store) down the road."
The board also approved two separate bids from Fellers Food Service Equipment for items to serve students during meals.
A $15,400 bid from Fellers will purchase food racks and carts, containers and accessories that will create grab-and-go breakfast stations for secondary students.
"We want to move from the traditional cafeteria to other areas in the building" where social distancing is easier to achieve, said Rick Kenkel, the food service director for the district. "These kiosks will allow us to have other access points in the building (for meals)."
At Joplin High School, tables have been extended out from the cafeteria into nearby hallways to allow for social distancing at lunch, and administrators are reconfiguring the movement of lunch lines in the cafeteria itself to space students apart, the principal said. Administrators also are planning to offer grab-and-go breakfasts that students can take and eat in Kaminsky Gymnasium, where they can spread out, before classes begin, he said.
A $35,500 bid from Fellers will purchase milk and breakfast cooler bags and breakfast parfait dividers so that the district can serve breakfast — and possibly lunch — in the classroom, primarily at the elementary level.
Some classrooms in high-needs schools already serve breakfast, but the program is to be expanded this year amid the pandemic.
"Something we are working toward is universal free breakfast for this school year," Mwangi said. "We've had pockets of that, but that is the direction we're moving."
The Joplin Board of Education special session is slated for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the administration building, 825 S. Pearl Ave. The sole item on the agenda is the district's reopening plan.