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What Schools Do When 75% of the Student Body is Out Hunting

Several rural school districts in southern Missouri cancel classes on days when they expect attendance to be extremely low due to deer firearms season
White-tailed deer (photo credit: Missouri Department of Conservation, used with permission)

Schools often cancel classes for holidays or severe weather.  But across the Missouri Ozarks, several schools close for days at a time during deer season.  KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson has more.

Several small school districts across the rural Ozarks were closed earlier this week – Dora, Winona, Eminence.  That’s because it’s the start of deer firearms season.   Merlyn Johnson is superintendent of Summersville Public Schools, in south-central Missouri. It was closed Monday and Tuesday.

“The reason schools are letting out is because of the attendance issue.  Anytime you get below 75% [attendance], you start losing money [because of state reimbursements]. The same goes with when you have a flu epidemic; if we start getting in the mid-70s, we’re considering cancelling school. So, the main reason is for attendance,” Johnson said.

I asked Johnson about what percentage of the student body hunts during deer season.

“I would say 75% of the kids hunt,” he estimated. “This is a country community, and it means a lot to the people here. They hunt with their dads and their grandfathers. It’s part of a family tradition—boys and girls. In fact, I’d say the percentage is about the same for boys and girls,” Johnson said.

He was surprised when as a new principal four years ago, he saw students pull up in the school parking lot to show the principal the “trophies” that they had harvested.

And these kids aren’t missing class just for the sport; family tradition and food have as much to do with it as anything, particularly in rural areas.   

Francis Skalicky is a spokesman with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“For some people, it spices up the menu of pork, chicken, and beef. But for some people, this is meat on the table that they plan on having this time of year,” Skalicky said.

There’s a reason you can find recipes like “Ozark Venison Roast” or “Ozark Style Venison Stroganoff” on the Internet. That’s because families in this region have, for generations, relied on venison for sustenance, making deer season one of the most important times of the year.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.