SHELDON—Discussion of the coronavirus pandemic permeated the Sheldon School District Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday, Sept. 9, as administrators shared updates on how the 2020-21 academic year has been going.
Middle school principal Cindy Barwick and high school principal Sherrie Zeutenhorst noted in their reports how teachers in their buildings have been juggling more responsibilities by teaching students in person and online.
“It’s just getting that balance,” Barwick said. “To their credit, they want to do it well. They want to do it and be the best at it.”
Zeutenhorst also said teachers at the high school have had more worries on their mind given the pandemic and balancing in-person and online teaching.
However, she was grateful only a few students have had to stay home for quarantine so far and was proud of the job her teachers have been doing.
Superintendent Cory Myer said other district superintendents with whom he has communicated shared similar concerns about teacher stress.
“They’re doing more than ever in a more stressful environment than ever before, and so there is some concern that way,” Myer said.
“There was a survey done — and I just heard some results the other day — where they were saying the morale of school staff at the beginning of the year is more like what it typically is six months from now and summer just didn’t have that same rejuvenation that it often does for staff.”
The district will hold a professional development day Nov. 6 to give teachers an extra opportunity to practice using technology for remote-teaching purposes. Although faculty had training during the summer, Myer said it was a lot to learn in a short amount of time.
“Now they’re in full-fledged instruction and they don’t really have a lot of time to try and learn and be innovative because they’re just so overwhelmed with the day to day,” he said. “I’ve been in a few of the classrooms when they’re teaching face to face and remotely and it is very, very different.”
On the other hand, Myer argued Sheldon was holding up well compared to other districts in terms of implementing remote learning.
Myer also updated the school board on the numbers related to coronavirus absences as of the day of the meeting:
Twenty-three students were quarantining at home, two of whom had positive diagnoses, three of whom were waiting on test results; others were waiting on test results from family members.
Eleven staff members had to quarantine during August while waiting on test results for themselves or for family members.
“When I talked to area superintendents, probably half the schools’ numbers are comparable to us, another half are quite a bit higher,” Myer said. “It really just depends on where you’re at and then no rhyme or reason to anything. That’s kind of been the case with COVID all along.”
He also clarified guidance released by the state in which school districts may temporarily switch to hybrid or online learning. For that to happen, the county must have at least 15 percent positivity rate on a 14-day rolling average and the district must have 10 percent absenteeism due to sickness.
Students or staff who are quarantining, however, do not count toward that number unless they are sick. Likewise, students with positive results who are quarantining but who are not symptomatic would still count.
Although the Sheldon School District includes students who live in Sioux and Lyon counties, Myer said about 90 percent are in O’Brien County and that county is therefore of most significant concern when tracking percentages.
Board member Susan Rensink asked if the district would consider allowing faculty to teach from home if they needed to quarantine, provided the district could have someone sit in on the classroom.
Myer said the district discussed that option, however, so far the district has been able to find enough substitute teachers who could provide face-to-face instruction in the case of teacher absences.
If there came a point where no substitutes could be found, the district would consider remote teaching on a case-by-case basis.