Phelps County schools, Missouri S&T set tentative reopening plans, students could be in classrooms in July

Lori Amos
Rolla 31 School District closed its buildings and transitioned to online learning as local and state health department assessed the spread of COVID-19.

Public school districts and higher education institutes in Phelps County have laid out learning plans for students during the summer and start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Rolla 31 School District and St. James R-1 School District have tentative plans for a seated summer school session in July.

Assistant Superintendent for Rolla 31 School District Craig Hounsom said the district would like to get an idea of how school would look with fewer students and understand ways the district can run school when faced with reopening to more students in August.

“We really want to have this July summer school, but it is nothing compared to what we want on Aug. 24, which is to open up and provide a normal situation,” Hounsom said.

Here are some highlights on how schools in the area are preparing for summer programs and the 2020-2021 academic year amid uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus:

Rolla 31 School District

Hounsom said Rolla High School would have summer school in June and the district has tentative plans to have a seated summer school session for students in July.

The Rolla High School and Junior High online summer programs are open to students in 9th through 12th-grade. Students are eligible to enroll at no cost and earn up to one unit of high school credit.

The summer program would start on June 1 and continue through June 26. Total enrollment in the summer school program is down over last year, Hounsom said.

Less concrete is a proposed seated summer school session in July. Hounsom said the proposed session from July 6 through July 31 would focus on grade-level academic classes. Hounsom said the district is still in the planning phase on how to handle transportation as well as safety since it depends on how many students enroll in the July program.

The district would offer kindergarten through 8th-grade academic classes.

“We would emphasize those classes that were lost during the COVID-19 closure. But more so, we would emphasize the very key concepts in each grade level to make sure kids have the prerequisite skills to get into the next grade level,” Hounsom said.

There is also concern with staffing ability to offer a summer school for the kindergarten through the 8th-grade level.

“Our next step is to send out information about student enrollment to get an idea about the number of students interested in attending to focus on alternative plans that would have to be put in place for that July session,” Hounsom said.

President-Elect for Rolla School District’s Board of Education Jim Packard supported the initiative to have seated courses for all students in July.

If Rolla School District could offer the July program, it would provide an opportunity to work out some of the logistic issues that the district is going to have, and do it with a lot fewer kids than the 4,000 the district would have Aug. 24, Packard said.

To take the next step in planning, the district on Thursday asked that students register for the July summer school session by visiting A paper copy can be picked up in the Rolla Public School Administration Office, at 500 Forum Drive. A copy can also be downloaded here: The plans are fluid and could change based on any new guidance from local and state public health officials, according to Hounsom.

Meanwhile, the district postponed summer athletic events scheduled for May and June, including youth camps as well as all athletic events and leagues typically hosted by Rolla Public Schools. The district plans to reschedule many of its camps for July and August. Rolla Public Schools has plans to start the 2020-2021 academic year Aug. 24.

One issue that has come to light is telecommunications going into the new academic year. Rolla Public Schools Director of Technology Ginger King said, “Now it’s time for us in light of virtual learning to utilize Google Classroom and live streaming with Google

Meet, which is critical for us for what we might be facing in the future.”

The technology plan for the new school year is to continue the development of the district website and mobile app; however, King said the district is going to have to address device availability at students’ homes. The overarching challenge is residential internet access availability. King said parents responded to a survey the district sent out. The survey asked parents if they could video conference, stream content and have students submit assignments online. King said 162 respondents said they could not do those things online due to affordability.

“The geographical challenges of our community are difficult. Rolla is not the only district that is going to face this,” King said. “It will require that local and national telecompanies as well as electrical cooperatives really look at this differently and see how we can reach people in rural areas.”

St. James R-1 School District

St. James R-I School District will have a virtual summer school beginning June 1 through June 26. All classes will be offered online. The program is open to students in 9th through 12th-grade. Students are eligible to enroll at no cost but must have access to the internet.

Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said the leadership at St. James R-I School District is continuing to prepare for a variety of educational options for the summer and upcoming fall.

“While the future is never clear, we continue to encourage creativity and innovation as we evaluate how to best prepare educational opportunities and options for students. If we, unfortunately, find ourselves quarantined again. We are presently considering multiple platforms and feasibility options if the need arises,” Johnson said.

St. James School District has tentative plans to have a seated kindergarten through 12th-grade summer school in July — or beyond — once state and local health officials modify or withdraw the social distancing guidelines. If social distancing guidelines don't change, possible in-person cohorts for select classes are under consideration for later in the summer. If necessary, summer school could be postponed to early or mid-August.

“Daily school routines and procedures may never be the same again,” Johnson said.

As far as students returning in the fall, the district is currently considering three different options. The first option is for students to come back to all campuses on Aug. 25 with restrictions in place. “As small outbreaks occur, we would close school for seven to 14 days for deep cleaning and other health measures,” he said. The district’s second option is for students to come back to all campuses on Aug. 25 with restrictions in place, and start the year with staggered or blended learning cohorts. This would include a coordinated bus schedule with each staggered cohort. As small outbreaks occur, the district would close school for five to seven days for deep cleaning and testing before the unaffected cohorts would return. Johnson said the district’s third option is for school to start in August with home-based online learning. Campuses would not be open for in-person teaching until January or if a vaccine for COVID-19 is made widely available.

“There are so many unknowns at this time. We will continue to provide the most recent updates once determinations are known,” Johnson said.

Newburg R-2 School District

Newburg R-2 School District will have summer school July 1 through July 31.

Newburg R-II Schools will offer a 22-day program for kindergarten through 8th-grade. The Summer Journey package the district is getting will provide free programs, Superintendent for Newburg R-II School District Lynne Reed said. The district will run regular bus routes for students enrolled in the program.

As far as high school goes, due to this virus, speech and health are the two classes that are the hardest to schedule. The district was thinking of having speech and health in-class for high school students during the summer.

The district is utilizing Google Classroom technology for students and ongoing virtual staff meetings for elementary and secondary grades. The district’s goal is not to replicate the classroom at home, but to provide extended learning activities for students.

The district plans to have students come back to in-person learning for the first day of school on Aug. 24.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

As Missouri S&T moves forward with its plan to hold classes on campus in the fall, many of the staff and faculty who have been working remotely will begin returning to campus. This return will occur in stages based on a month-by-month plan developed by the university’s Incident Command Team (ICT). The month-by-month approach occurs in six phases. The first phase occurred in March and April, and the second phase began May 1.

This plan follows the latest guidance from local, state and federal public health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Phelps-Maries County Health Department.

Director of student health and Missouri S&T’s chief medical officer Dr. Dennis Goodman said the university continues to work closely with local public health and medical officials and, as a member of the ICT, continues to advise campus leadership on adopting this phased approach to reopening. Goodman said the following plan could change, depending on how successful efforts to slow or mitigate the virus’s spread are.

Essential operations began during phase one in April, followed by a gradual reopening in May, which saw the easing of stay-at-home restrictions throughout the state and locally.

As state and local governments lifted restrictions and more businesses began to reopen, the emphasis on social distancing continued. More staff are returning to campus, including directors and supervisors, who will assess their work locations to consider possible adjustments needed to comply with social distancing and other guidelines. As more research labs reopen, additional research faculty, staff and students also are returning to campus this month.

Online summer sessions would begin in June. Four summer academic sessions will be held starting in June and continuing into July. Three of the sessions – one eight-week session and two four-week sessions – will be offered entirely online. The fourth session, planned for July 20 through Aug. 14, may involve on-campus instruction as well as online classes, depending on the situation in mid-July. All camps scheduled for June have been canceled or postponed.

Missouri S&T expects to see more faculty and staff return to campus in July, assuming the spread of COVID-19 has dissipated. This will include additional residential life and student support staff and athletics coaches and staff. If the four-week summer session planned for July 20 through Aug. 14 will involve on-campus instruction as planned; students also will begin returning to campus.

As the university prepares for the fall semester in August, the majority of faculty and staff should be back on campus. To ensure social distancing and safety, plans for move-in day and orientation week Aug. 16, through Aug. 21 may need to be altered. The fall semester is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

The university’s plans moving forward will depend on a successful opening of the fall semester. Most employees and students should be back on campus. The success of this plan depends on how sufficient current and later practices are at minimizing the virus’s impact on operations. Many of the details have yet to be worked out, and many questions have yet to be addressed, according to Andrew Careaga, chief marketing and communications officer for Missouri S&T.