The High Point R-3 School in Moniteau County switched to temporary virtual learning this week, to remain in effect until Oct. 26 barring any changes in the status of coronavirus contact tracing among students and staff.
The decision comes after enough educators were sidelined, either due to testing positive for COVID-19 or being categorized as close contacts and needing to self-quarantine, that classrooms were too short-staffed to make in-person learning effective.
Three staff members and two students have tested positive for COVID-19 at High Point as of Thursday afternoon.
Though there were some positive tests, as well as 30 percent of the student body absent and in quarantine, High Point Superintendent Eric Findley said the teacher shortage was the main cause for the decision to go remote.
"We got to the point where I had (paraprofessionals) in classrooms, I had Title 1 (teachers) in classrooms, I had teachers gone. I was even in a couple classrooms teaching," Findley said. "We were utilizing every person to teach and to stay in school."
Ultimately, Findley said, he felt students weren't getting the best education this way.
Findley said making the move now can allow the student body to refocus on learning and get the building cleaned and ready for students to return in person. If returning before the end of the month doesn't end up being possible, he said, the district will pivot accordingly.
"It's never been intended for this to be long term, and I'm hoping that it's not," Findley said. "I'm really hoping that we come back a week from Monday. But you know what, if we have to shut down, we will. We will do what we have to do."
Under a remote education plan, teachers who are home under quarantine, for example, could return to teaching remotely, Findley said.
The virtual format is helped this time around by a longer amount of time for preparation. Findley said the unexpected circumstances of last March left something to be desired when it came to remote education.
"I did not feel like we did as good a job as we could've done," Findley said. "And I'm not making excuses; I could say we didn't know it was going to happen and we didn't have time to prepare, and all of that's true, but the bottom line is I wanted to be better this (school) year."
Every Wednesday since this school year started, High Point has had "virtual Wednesdays," with every class from kindergarten through eighth grade taught remotely, either from the hallway or desk, as if students were at home. Findley said the district wanted students, teachers and parents to feel comfortable with remote learning and thought emulating the environment would help.
"I feel like my teachers have done a phenomenal job," Findley said. "They've worked hard at it. They're still working hard at it. They want their kids to learn, and we obviously all want the kids to learn."
Another change is a "different mentality" in the material being covered during remote learning. Findley said a vast majority of education in the spring was review work, since schools weren't sure if or when they'd return to in-person education.
Now, however, High Point's remote learning is focused on progression.
"One thing I told the teachers was, when we do come back on Oct. 26, I want those students to be at the same level they would be if we never would've shut down school," Findley said. "So there's no review time or fluff time, we're learning. We're teaching new things every day."
When it comes to remote learning, Findley said, High Point has an advantage over other schools in the area because of its small size. For example, there's wiggle room if students are having problems with the computers they've been given to use at home — they can simply come swap them out for replacements, where larger schools may only have enough computers to give one to each student.
A high level of parent involvement and support helps as well, he said.
"I think we're prepared as well as any other school district around, and a lot of that is because we've put an emphasis on it," Findley said. "We knew we had to prepare to shut down, even though we didn't want to and were hoping we never would, but we have to prepare for it. It's no different than running a tornado drill or a fire drill; you're hoping it never happens, but if it does happen, we're ready and we know what to do in that case."