The Natrona County School District's board of trustees decided Monday to keep its virtual/adaptive/distance learning program in place and not reopen the school buildings for the remainder of the school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They made an exception for certain classes that require certain hands-on learning such as welding classes, according to the motion made by trustee Dave Applegate and approved by the rest of the trustees during its teleconference meeting on YouTube.

The trustees also granted the high schools the ability to plan their own graduations.

Regarding closures, trustee Debbie McCullar said she wasn't ready for children to return to the schools, adding that boards of trustees of other districts in the state have decided to keep their schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

Trustee Dave Applegate said he agreed, but that he would like schools to be able to accept groups of students in project-based classes such as shop classes where students are already socially distanced.

The adaptive learning program in the district is entering its fourth week.

Trustee Kevin Christopherson added that students can't learn welding or nursing skills online.

District Superintendent Steve Hopkins said he's waiting to hear from Gov. Mark Gordon about the latest directives regarding reopening the state after a near shutdown of public places.

Applegate presented a chart that showed the risk of contracting COVID-19 from the coronavirus compared to the tolerance for risk.

 

Natrona County School District. Risk, risk tolerance. YouTube. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

Applegate said he's probably less of a risk-taker than other trustees, such as Christopherson.

For his part, Christopherson said he leans more toward risk tolerance and that he doesn't like the distance learning program, saying students aren't interested.

However, district administrator of curriculum Walt Wilcox later said that a high -- 97% -- of students have tuned into the online learning programs, with 80% of them being actively engaged.

Hopkins said whatever the trustees decided still will need approval from the Casper-Natrona Health Department.

The question remains whether the schools will reopen in the fall, because it's unknown how the pandemic will play out, he said.

But the schools are working on those plans, Hopkins added.

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