Summer break is extended

Ron Burtz
Students in the Custer School District will get an extra two days of summer vacation, thanks to a decision made by the board of education in a special meeting Monday. All seven school board members were present at the 5:30 p.m. meeting, either by phone or in person, to consider the one item on the agenda: whether to move the start date for in-classroom instruction from Monday, Aug. 24, to Wednesday, Aug. 26. 
Superintendent Mark Naugle told the board the recommendation came out of a recent meeting with the Back to School Committee—a task force made up of teachers and administrators from the three district schools—in which the committee expressed a need for more time to prepare teachers for the use of online educational programs. 
Naugle said the revised schedule includes two voluntary days of staff in-service Aug. 17-18. He said teachers are not obligated to attend, but those who do will be paid at the per diem rate. Teachers will be required to attend the previously scheduled in-service days Aug. 19-20 plus the two additional days the following Monday and Tuesday.  
Naugle said one day will be devoted to the usual matters covered in in-service days and the other three will focus on training the teachers in the use of two internet programs that will be used regularly in classrooms this year and which will be used exclusively in the case of another school shutdown requiring distance learning. 
He said grades three through five will use a platform called Seesaw and the upper grades will use Google Classroom. 
Board member Michelle Lehman asked how taking away two days of classroom instruction would impact students. Naugle assured her the district already has more student days on the schedule than is required by state law, so there should be no impact. 
Following on the unanimous positive vote on the schedule change, the board discussed other topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic and re-starting in-classroom instruction. 
Naugle said the district plans to survey parents to find out how many will keep their students at home this fall and board member Jeff Barnes asked about a protocol in the fall reopening plan approved earlier this month. He said the rule calling for “two negative test results for COVID-19 with 24 hours separating the two tests” for students who have been ill would “put a financial burden on students.” 
Naugle acknowledged the difficulty and pointed out the document is a work in progress and will be amended as circumstances warrant. The board previously gave the superintendent the authority to revise the plan without board approval. 
The board also discussed the importance of making the fall reopening plan document available to parents through as many avenues as possible. The document can be found at the school website and Naugle said he will also place copies in public places such as the Custer County Library for those who do not have internet access. He said he would glad to mail a copy to anyone who calls and requests one. 
Addressing the issue of district families who don’t have internet at home, Naugle said Golden West Telecom has been generous in helping such families and he encouraged those who need home internet service to contact him. 

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