Park Hill, Platte County R-3 will use hybrid model
The four public school districts in Platte County have received the go-ahead to open on Sept. 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with grade levels Pre-K through fifth grade being in person and 6th-12th grades under a hybrid model, utilizing a combination of in-person and virtual learning.
At a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 20, the Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees voted to allow per the conditions above for Park Hill and Platte County R-3.
Later, the West Platte and North Platte School Districts were approved for variances and both North Platte and West Platte will open with full in-person learning.
Superintendents Karl Matt of North Platte and John Rinehart of West Platte had submitted their reopening plans with relevant COVID-19 precautions to Mary Jo Vernon, director of the health department, and Vernon approved each for a variance.
Rinehart of West Platte said a recent survey indicated 22% of his district’s students will opt for remote learning, which he said would remove about 60-70 kids from the district’s secondary school.
“Those results should give us a teacher to student ratio of 1 to 9. CDC guidance I’ve read suggests classrooms with that ratio are considered ‘ideal,'” Rinehart said in an email to Vernon.
Rinehart also pointed out West Platte has purchased several plexiglass dividers to provide a physical barrier where space is at a premium.
“We are trying to provide as many layers of protection between our kids and staff and the virus as possible and practicable. If space cannot be utilized as a layer, then masks and physical barriers will hopefully compensate,” the West Platte superintendent added.
West Platte developed a specific reopening plan with relevant COVID-19 precautions. In his email to Vernon, Rinehart said the plan was developed over a six week period, with input from stakeholders, staff and administration.
“Your rationale and accommodations appear to have many layers of protection and the safety of the students at the forefront,” Vernon replied to Rinehart in an email obtained by The Landmark.
North Platte Superintendent Karl Matt told Vernon that the district has “instituted our back to school plan after collaborating with our students, staff, parents, community members, and members of the health department.”
Matt said the small district enrollment “allows us to have total approximate building populations of 190 in the high school, 150 in the junior high, 140 in the intermediate school and 120 in the elementary school.”
Matt explained that around 15-20 percent of students have signed up for virtual enrollment.
“This will allow us to properly social distance and adhere to both the PCHD back-to-school recommendations and the North Platte back-to-school recommendations,” Matt told Vernon in an email obtained by The Landmark.
“I believe that by working with the health department on guidelines and contact tracing we can provide the safest environment possible for our students during this time,” he added.
In approving North Platte’s request for a variance, Vernon told Matt that “your rationale and accommodations appear to have the safety of students in the forefront. Thank you for your continued partnership as we move through this COVID-19 pandemic.”
About 26.5% of Park Hill students have signed up for virtual (remote) learning. At Platte County R-3, about 20.5% of students have opted for remote learning.
Also at the Aug. 20 meeting, the health department board of trustees removed themselves from the discussion on fall sports and other extracurricular activities. The board will defer to school districts, conferences, and the Missouri State High School Activities Association to make those decisions.
On the topic of gating criteria, the health board directed Vernon to develop gating criteria that can be used by school districts to determine when it is appropriate to move between all virtual learning, a hybrid model and in-person learning.
Vernon will bring recommendations to the board regarding who will serve on a committee for developing the criteria. Several suggestions were offered, including educators, local physicians, mental health experts and others from the broader community.
The health board voted to expand the current free COVID-19 testing being offered by the health department to include asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) individuals, in addition to symptomatic individuals and close contacts of persons known to be positive for COVID-19.
Funds from the health department reserves will be used to pay for the testing.