The announcement on Sunday evening that Scotland County R-I would be closing for two weeks as part of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic may have caught the community a bit off guard, but in less than 48 hours the district was joined by the vast majority of public education providers in the state.
Superintendent Ryan Bergeson indicated the district had been closely monitoring the situation related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, seeking guidance from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), the Center of Disease and Control (CDC), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as well as local health officials.
“After careful consideration and information gathered from the DHSS, CDC, and local health professionals, we believe it is necessary to immediately close Scotland County R-1 Schools and suspend related activities beginning Monday, March 16, 2020” he stated. “We have made this decision in the best interest of our community and all of our district stakeholders.”
SCR-I will be closed through Friday, March 27, 2020.
“As that date approaches, the district will make decisions based on the present situation. Proactively taking this action now will allow school officials and staff ample time to finalize all plans necessary for such an unexpected but necessary closure.”
Bergeson indicated the decision dated back to the week of March 2nd, when the district was experiencing a flu outbreak.
“We began closely monitoring our attendance with secretaries and the school nurse as influenza cases within our district continued to rise,” said Bergeson. “While attendance seemed to consistently be lower than normal, precautionary measures were being taken with custodial staff, teachers and other school employees to sanitize and thoroughly clean all areas in our buildings, buses, and facilities.”
The following week, while attendance moved back toward more normal rates and student health appeared to be improving, the COVID-19 pandemic started gripping the nation and cancellations of sporting events and other large gatherings became common place.
“While the CDC was not recommending to close schools, it was giving guidelines to avoid gatherings of more than 250 people, with was lowered to 50 and now stands at 10,” said Bergeson. “That seemed to be in direct conflict with our school district continuing to go about business as usual where 600 to 700 people are interacting on a daily basis.”
The district learned from DESE as well as Missouri Governor Mike Parsons on Friday, March 13th, that the decisions were going to be left in the hands of local officials.
Bergeson indicated that through communication with other area superintendents and under the direction of DESE and the governor that it appeared that the week would move forward business as usual.
That all changed on March 15th. Bergeson indicated he had contact with local health officials who indicated there was a community member that had all of the symptoms of the COVID-19 and was being tested.
“Taking this information into consideration and reviewing available information from the CDC, as well as sample Pandemic Plans, I began communications with board members,” said Bergeson. “After reviewing available information and taking the recommendation from our health care professionals, the decision was made to cancel class at Scotland County R-1 beginning Monday, March 16 – Friday, March 27.”
The district indicated its belief that such a decision would come from the governor or state officials, but after learning of the potential local case, decided it was imperative to take action immediately.
SCR-I joined Kirksville as the lone school districts in Northeast Missouri to be closed on Monday due to the COVID-19 issue. By Monday evening DESE reported more than 100 districts across the state had followed suit, with many announcing plans to stay closed through the first week in April.
Bergeson indicated on Tuesday morning that the majority of northeast districts had decided overnight on Monday to also begin cancelling classes.
While SCR-I will be out of class, the district will continue to serve students. Bergeson indicated volunteers are working to prepare meals for students.
“As of Tuesday, we have 50 to 60 families signed up to receive delivery of student lunches and the following days breakfast,” he said. “We have staff volunteering to put the meals together and bus driver volunteering to help deliver. I was so impressed by the staff response and leadership in making the best of a poor situation. The staff did a great job of constructing online learning components, gathering instructional materials, recording video lessons, cleaning and sanitizing the school buildings, kitchen, and buses from top to bottom, putting together breakfast and lunch options for our students, and planning delivery of meals and instructional materials. It was another reminder that we have a tremendous staff. We are blessed.”
Bergeson indicated the SCR-I Board of Education met on March 16th. The district approved a hold harmless policy for faculty and staff, meaning they will be paid during the school closing.
“We are committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of everyone in our school community and we understand the hardship the decision to close will likely place on families,” said Bergeson. “Although this situation is out of our control, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. Together, we will get through this situation.”