Sikeston R-6 Board of Education President Glen Cantrell speaks at the beginning of the Board’s special work session Thursday.
Leonna Heuring/Standard Democrat
SIKESTON — The Sikeston R-6 Board of Education president discussed the school district’s process to create its COVID-19 reopening procedures but also plans to start the dialogue for the state to make students essential.
“Earlier this year, the Sikeston school board made a very difficult decision to close our school after Gov. Mike Parson gave the order to all Missouri schools,” Sikeston R-6 Board of Education President Glen Cantrell said Thursday during the Board of Education’s special work session. “Originally, we hoped it would only be a short time, but as we all know, the order was extended, and our students and teachers had to finish the year virtually.”
Throughout the summer, Cantrell said R-6 Superintendent Dr. Tony Robinson, administrators, teachers and medical professionals in the community worked together to develop a plan that would allow R-6 schools to reopen for this school year while taking measures to keep students, teachers, administrators and other staff employees safe.
Several meetings and hours of work went into the development of the plan with the input from those on the committee as well as data and other information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the Scott County Health Department and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Cantrell said.
Once complete, the plan was communicated to the Board, to all employees of the district, students and the public in general. It was sent to parents by email, and it was and is available in the students’ portals and on the Sikeston Public Schools website, he said.
“The plan is a living document,” Cantrell said. “That means that it is and will be constantly changing as circumstances change.”
For example, last week the state health department starting working with the local health departments to be more stringent in declaring direct contacts so schools won’t see entire sports teams or an entire classroom be quarantined.
“Just yesterday (Sept. 16) Dr. Robinson and his team met with our local health department nurses and school nurses to to talk about the latest changes and to ensure we are all on the same page, especially when it comes to isolations of positive cases and quarantines of direct contacts,” Cantrell said.
This issue is not an easy issue for Sikeston R-6 — or any school district — to handle, Cantrell said. One reason, he said, is because this is a divisive issue.
“There are those who believe we should just let whatever happens happen and just live life. There are others who believe we must take extra precautions to ensure the safety of all people all the time because of a genuine fear of the disease.
He continued: “We have people who believe in masks and people who don’t believe in masks. We have those who question the authority of any government agency to impose requirements on its citizens.”
Cantrell said they must find some common ground.
“We all want students in school. We all want our teachers doing what they do best – teaching their students in person, and we all know that is what is best for our students and our school district,” Cantrell said.
That’s the greatest desire of Robinson, his team and this school board, Cantrell said.
“We know there will be decisions that either we will make or that Dr. Robinson will make that are unpopular and not well liked but we’ve made those decisions and allowed those decisions to be made because we fill it is what’s best for our students,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell said he serves on the R-6 Board with very passionate people who care for these students and this district. That has been adamant over the past few months as the members have had discussions about the plan and what is happening with isolation and quarantines.
“Over the past week, your Board has been very busy speaking with numerous people about the issue,” Cantrell told the crowd of parents and staff at the special work session.
Cantrell said board members have spop “We have spoken to the Scott County Health Department Administrator Barry Cook
We’ve also spoken with New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard and Cape Girardeau public health departments. When asked how they are handling isolation and quarantine, their answers were all the same. We have spoken with every district in Scott County as well as other schools like Doniphan and South Pemiscot. These school districts are facing the same challenges when it comes to isolation and quarantines, we get the same answer.
Board members have spoken to teachers, students, parents and others about their concerns, about what they feel is working and not working, Cantrell said. They’ve also spoken with the state health department and DESE, seeking clarification of state statutes to ensure whatever the administration decides matches the state laws, he said. The R-6 Board has also been speaking with State Rep. Holly Rehder, State Sen. Doug Libla and Sen. Wayne Wallingford. They’ve made phone calls to other state legislators and the governor’s office, he said.
“In these discussions, we are attempting to start a dialogue with those who can make change happen. We are seeking the state to declare students essential so they can focus more on school and less on worrying that they may be sent home for two weeks because they happen to come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19,” Cantrell said. “We encourage anyone who wants to see change happen to call your state legislator. Call the state health department. Call the governor’s office. Send them emails. Help us solicit change to clarify state statutes in the upcoming legislative year in 2021 so that our students right to come to school is no longer hindered.”
Cantrell also shared his personal story.
“My son is on his way home from college. My son was supposed to be coming off his second quarantine of this school year – his third since July,” Cantrell said. “Today as he was supposed to come off, he got a phone call that his roommate tested positive— another 14 days in quarantine. I understand your concern. I understand your frustration and I feel your pain – just like the rest of the this board, Dr. Robinson and the rest of this administration.
He continued: “So trust me when I say we share all of these things and are doing everything in our power to keep Sikeston Public Schools open, to ensure the best education possible during this odd and difficult time.”