Emotions were obvious during the Board of Education meeting on March 17 as administrators and board members discussed the decision to close Ste. Genevieve R-II schools for two weeks.
“I don’t think any of us could ever have imagined that in our careers we would have to deal with something like this,” Dr. Julie Flieg, superintendent of schools, told the board and the local cable access television audience.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the meeting agenda was trimmed, eliminating principals’ reports and the instructional program. Messages were also sent out that only participating administrators, board members and media would be granted access in an attempt to keep attendance below the 10-person limit suggested by health officials.
“But I will say, our staff has been amazing,” Flieg added, “our students have been amazing, our parents have been amazing.”
The decisions, first to cancel special events like the March 12 school play and extracurricular events, and then to shut down school for at least two weeks, was a troubling one for Flieg and the others.
“On a personal note, some people don’t agree, some people think it’s crazy,” Flieg said. “People don’t understand the decision.”
She was nearly overcome with emotion as she mentioned the losses students would suffer.
“As a parent of a senior, this is very hard because … and not just for our seniors, but for all of our kids,” Flieg said. “Because we’re taking a lot away.”
Assistant superintendent Dr. Paul Taylor said students were “somber” upon finding out about the two-week shutdown.
“When the kids go home for a break, it’s usually a celebration,” he said, “and today there was a very somber tone, and you could tell the kids didn’t want to go [home].”
Flieg reviewed with the board the timeline of how the decisions were made.
“I know a lot of people have questions,” she said. “We have been working very closely with Sandra Bell and the Ste. Gen. County Health Department, the hospital, with emergency management and also with Father [Edward] Nemeth of Valle Catholic.
“Last week, I think we talked daily, if not multiple times on a daily basis.”
First, Flieg said, Bell recommended postponing events bringing people into the community. That included a school play and district speech and debate competition that weekend.
“So we knew all of that had to be canceled immediately,” Flieg said. “We had staff that was amazing and helped make that happen.”
All student and faculty trips to events outside the district also were postponed.
“[If] we were trying to prevent people coming in who were carrying the virus, why would we send people out?” Flieg asked. “So, we knew this was starting to intensify and possibly lead to a school closure.”
She asked the staff to work on alternative methods of instruction in case that happened. Those methods were approved by the board as part of the consent agenda.
“We can’t actually use those methods and report hours of attendance to DESE [the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education],” Flieg said, “but we thought maybe it needed to go in, in case this does extend into the next school year and beyond.”
She said they came up with some “pretty creative” ways of doing it, including bingo cards being used for elementary students.
“I felt like we were in a pretty good place on Friday [March 13],” Flieg said.
However, Bell called her on March 15 and requested a meeting with her and Nemeth. Bell told them the regional health department was recommending school closures.
The decision was made to shut schools down at the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18, through Friday, April 3. Before then, the situation was to be reevaluated.
Flieg informed other Mineral Area Activities Association (MAAA) schools and then met with other school representatives. All MAAA schools agreed to shut down.
See complete story in the April 1 edition of the Herald.