Maryville High School students exit the school after completing their first day of classes for the 2020-2021 school year Aug. 21. The Maryville R-II School District gave students and parents the option to attend classes online or in-person, five days a week.

Ten Maryville R-II School District students have tested positive for COVID-19 and 128 students are quarantined district-wide, as of Sept. 9. Before the Board of Education voted to adjust Maryville High School into a hybrid teaching model, the Nodaway County Commission passed a declaration allowing close-contact teachers to continue instruction in-person. 

Faculty employed at Nodaway County school districts are recognized as essential workers who, as of Sept. 3, can remain working in-person even when considered a close contact to someone infected with COVID-19.

In order for a close-contact faculty or staff member to remain in-person, they have to fit three criteria: they wear a mask or face shield on campus, they do not display symptoms and they follow social distancing guidelines.

North District Commissioner Chris Burns was one of three commissioners who declared county school faculty administration and staff are essential workers.

“The overall goal of this was to keep teachers to where they could go back to work; to keep students in class,” Burns said. 

Maryville R-II Superintendent Becky Albrecht said the declaration was to the benefit of the district, which had teachers in quarantine and a short substitute teachers list.

“If they hadn’t done that we could have very quickly got into a situation where we wouldn’t have enough adults able to supervise students for them to come even for two days on a hybrid schedule,” Albrecht said. “It would have gotten very difficult, very quickly.”

Various counties across the state have implemented similar declarations, following guidance from local health departments which have advised counties to label teachers as essential workers. 

Nodaway County Presiding Commissioner Bill Walker said the commission followed Gentry County’s footsteps in passing this declaration in hopes of providing students in local school districts a relatively normal experience.

Maryville High School began its first day of a hybrid learning model Sept. 9. Albrecht said the district conducted research over the summer to see what an alternate attendance model would look like for Maryville R-II, consulting several entities for its design.

The move to officially undergo a hybrid model was something the administration as a whole did not want to do, but when a high number of students went into quarantine, Albrecht said it was a “necessary step.”

“The high school was seeing the highest number of students in quarantine,” Albrecht said. “For now, it’s just the high school going into hybrid teaching.”

In the new attendance model, students are separated into two groups, a green group and a yellow group. The green group includes students with last names beginning with A-L who attend in-person Mondays and Wednesdays only. The yellow group is students with last names M-Z who attend in-person Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On their respective off days, both groups are following remote instruction from teachers and using an online resource called Schoology.

Students attending three-hour blocked lab-based classes at the Northwest Technical School: building trades, auto tech, collision repair, health science and welding will continue to attend those in-person five days a week.

For high school students who chose to engage in online learning at the beginning of the school year, their classes remain completely separate from changes made with adjustments to the hybrid model.

The school board and administration moved to a hybrid instruction model taking into account that the coronavirus was accounting for close to a 7% absent rate after the second week of classes. 

The high school continues to experience the highest rate of absence since classes began, where its students account for at least 44 of the 128 district-wide quarantined students as of Sept. 9. 

For transparency in district COVID-19 data, Albrecht emails families in the Maryville R-II district updates every Friday and posts an update on the school’s COVID-19 information page the same day. Though this limits the updates to weekly occurrences, Albrecht said it still provides families with the information they need to know.

“It’s a number that’s hard to give out because, honestly, it changes constantly,” Albrecht said. “Situations, factors, considerations, numbers — they change so fast. It really is hard to keep up to date on things, and even the guidance that we’re given changes frequently.”

The district went into Labor Day weekend Sept. 4 with five positive COVID-19 cases and came back Monday with 10, doubling the positive cases in just three days.

The Nodaway County Health Department COVID-19 dashboard shows people from ages 10 to 19 years old are the second largest grouping of positive COVID-19 cases, with a total of 157.

Albrecht said school officials remain hopeful, however, and despite the numbers, are confident hybrid instruction will allow for better contact tracing and ease the anxiety of students attending in person.

“Stress is affecting the kids, the staff and the community,” Albrecht said in a Zoom meeting with the Greater Maryville Chamber of Commerce. “Students have been very anxious and distracted. We are hoping to ease those fears in class with this model.”

Albrecht explained in the Zoom meeting that Maryville R-II will continue sports practices as they were operating before the switch to a hybrid model, but that practices will be recorded for contact tracing.

Football practices and other outdoor sports can be recorded with a drone, and indoor practices will be recorded with cameras in the gymnasium.

The high school plans to continue operating under the hybrid model until at least Oct. 16, which is the end of the first quarter. At that time, the board will review the situation at that time and make a decision for operations going forward.

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