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story.lead_photo.caption FILE: Krizzia Chisolm, left, and sophomore Reagan Bernskoetter carry in a table to one of the science rooms at Helias Catholic High School. Staff, teachers and students got a head start Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, on moving into the newly completed section of the school. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Helias Catholic High School has canceled summer school and switched to an eight-period day for the fall semester in light of concerns about COVID-19.

Helias does not have enough teachers and classrooms to adhere to social distancing in its typical seven-period day. Eight periods will allow all 750 students to be accommodated while following social-distancing guidelines, according to information on Helias' website.

To maintain 6 feet of distance between students for the fall semester, there will be smaller class sizes and more sections of classes. Some classes can fit as few as 13 students, and some can fit as many as 20, Principal Kenya Fuemmeler said. The number of sections of each class depends on the enrollment numbers.

In a normal seven-period day, there are 280 class sections, which means class sizes are about 25-30 students. Adding an extra period in the day will allow the school to create more sections to classes, alleviating the spacing problem and allowing for smaller class sizes, Fuemmeler said.

The school day will be extended by about 30 minutes for the fall semester, but start and end times have not been finalized. The schedule for the 2019-20 semester was 8 a.m.-2:50 p.m. Each period will last about 47 minutes, and extra time will be added to passing periods to allow students to remain 6 feet apart.

More sections of all classes students were planning to take this summer will be offered this fall and spring, so students can earn credits they would have received this summer. If summer school had not been canceled, freshmen would not have additional classes to take this fall.

Freshman fall schedules will automatically include the summer classes they were enrolled in. Summer classes are half-credit classes, so they are only half a class period. This will allow students to take both summer classes they were enrolled in.

However, Helias is not offering driver's education in the fall. Classes not offered in Helias curriculum will be accepted as credit from the Jefferson City School District.

All juniors and seniors will have the option to take a study hall, and sophomores will be able to earn two extra half-credits or another full credit for the extra period. Schedules for incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors will also include the summer classes these students were enrolled in.

School counselors will reach out to families whose students were not enrolled in summer school to help students select their eighth credit course. The counseling department will communicate further course selection options for students who did not list an alternate course on their registration form.

Helias administration and staff are still working through details regarding the changes to the school schedule. School staff will be reaching out to students and families to modify schedules.

Summer school refunds will be issued by June 1.

Many parents of freshmen are concerned the extra class will be homework-intensive and increase pressure on students, Fuemmeler said.

Administration is working to allow all students to have a class or two that will allow them to maintain a manageable level of homework. For example, every freshman may have a non-homework class such as physical education or health.

"I don't anticipate our students to have a significant homework increase because we're just trying to help them have even more balanced lives given the unknown situation we're looking at," Fuemmeler said.

Helias has several tentative plans for the 2020-21 school year based on recommendations from other schools, county and state officials, and the Missouri School Boards' Association.

For example, if there is increased transmission of COVID-19 and social-distancing guidelines become more stringent, Helias administration will consider switching to a four-period block schedule, having students alternate each day between e-learning and being at school. This would allow there to be fewer students in the building at one time.

"The eight-period day is really predicated on allowing us as many multiple situations that we could select into with minimal disruption," Fuemmeler said.

Administration is also considering options for seniors and/or juniors such as a delayed start time to check the temperature of every student entering the building daily or to offer seniors and/or juniors an eighth period option to choose from if they are in good academic standing, such as a work release, another AP course or an online course.

While it is too early to make final predictions about August, Fuemmeler said, administration will continue planning and evaluating, knowing these plans may change.

"We are going to continue to evaluate what's in the best interest of our school," she said. "There's not really a finalization date. It is the continuing process of evaluating an ever-changing situation."

Questions regarding summer school or student schedules can be submitted on the questions Google form.

Open-forum listening sessions on changes for the 2020-21 school year are scheduled at 7 a.m. June 2 in the Helias commons, 5 p.m. June 3 at the Crusader Athletic Complex and noon June 4 in the commons. These events will be livestreamed on the Helias Facebook page.

"I think that will help alleviate the fears of those who are very hesitant to want to return to school and those who are ready for us to go back to normal," Fuemmeler said. "They can kind of hear the multitude of steps we're taking so we can support both camps to the best of our ability."

For more information and to view safety precautions for summer athletics and activities, visit the COVID-19 Communications page at heliascatholic.com under the "Parents" tab.

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