UPDATED: The Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees voted during an emergency meeting Sunday evening to close its schools for the next two weeks in response to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
The board followed the recommendation of its superintendent, Mark Rose, to suspend classes at the very least through Friday, March 27. The board will reconvene on Thursday, March 26 to determine if additional closure days are needed.
The second of those two weeks (March 23-27) is the district’s spring break.
Only administrators and secretaries are to report for work on Monday, March 16. Teachers and other school staff are to report to work on Tuesday, March 17, when the logistics of distance learning will be among the primary topics of conversation.
To date, there have been three confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wyoming — two in Sheridan county, one in Fremont County. Late Sunday afternoon, the Jackson school district became the first in Wyoming to announce a closure, announcing a three-week week closure extending through April 3.
Soon after, Gov. Mark Gordon and Supt. of Public Instruction Jillian Balow announced that they were recommending that school districts shut down for at least three weeks, but left the decision on whether to do so and for what length in the hands of local administrators and school boards.
Ted Menke, chairman of the Greybull school board, said, “I think what needs to be said is, I don’t think we’re considering this because of the students — from what we’re hearing, they are expected to ride through it easily because they’re young and healthy.
“We’re doing it because they will take it home, and the people who work with them will take it home. Our hospital could be stressed as it is, having too many people needing to get health care.”
In making his recommendation to the board, Rose said the focus of school employees this week will be “getting ready to teach everything online” and “getting Chromebooks to the kids.”
Sara Schlattmann, the district’s business manager, said that with everything breaking so quickly this weekend, it is unknown at this time how the closure will impact the funding that the district receives from the state. Certified employees will be paid, like normal. But for the other support staffers – the paras, lunch room workers, bus drivers, etc. – it is unclear, she said. Those expenses are typically reimbursed by the state after the fact.
Trustee Todd Dalin said, “We need to make sure the hourly employees and the bus drivers are getting paid too.” Rose said for this first week, it’ll be no trouble finding work for them. “We’re hoping to keep people working, and getting paid, as much as we can,” he said.
Rose said he followed the news reports closely and was in contact with a number of other school officials in the state on Sunday. With the exception of Kemmerer, all of them are intending to close their buildings for some period of time, he said.
Because it was an emergency meeting, the board must meet within 24 hours to take formal action. It plans to do that Monday at 4 p.m. at the central office.