Schools Cope With Ferguson Unrest
Updated 8:44 p.m. with statement from Normandy schools:
As the school year begins around the area, some districts in north St. Louis County are particularly wary following unrest in Ferguson over the weekend.
In Jennings, where students walk to school, the opening of classes Monday was postponed to Tuesday, to ensure student safety.
In a letter to families and staff released early Monday morning, signed by Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, the district said:
“Unfortunately, unsafe conditions in areas within north county have continued through this morning and as a result, the first day of school will be delayed until Tuesday.
“Safety is our uppermost concern. At this time we do not feel it's safe for our students to walk to school. We appreciate your understanding. Principals and all administrators will be available at school to inform families who may not have phone or television access, or who may not have received the message before 8 a.m. Again, thank you for understanding.
“We do look forward to having a safe and peaceful welcome back on Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 8 a.m. We will be keeping all involved in the tragedy that has sparked recent events in our thoughts and prayers.”
The death of recent Normandy High School graduate Michael Brown on Saturday, and the subsequent protests and looting that followed Sunday night, put much of north St. Louis County on edge.
In the Hazelwood School District, classes began as scheduled on Monday. Superintendent Grayling Tobias told St. Louis Public Radio that he wanted to make sure that teachers and other staff members were highly visible to allow students to discuss whatever feelings they had about the weekend’s events, which he said “cast a negative light on the north county area for the entire nation to see.”
But for the most part, he added, opening day went smoothly. He cited this report from one principal in the district.
“Given the events of the past weekend,” Tobias said, “he wasn’t sure what to expect, but the mood of the students and staff was really good and has exceeded expectations. Students have been very, very positive and cooperative and focused on learning.”
Tobias said that he, Anderson and Larry Larrew, the acting superintendent in Ferguson-Florissant, had conferred about the situation and offered assistance, if necessary, to surrounding cities like Florissant, Black Jack and Hazelwood.
“We want to be proactive and help our students take a calm, rational approach to this situation,” Tobias said.
“Emotions have been running high in the Ferguson community, and because of the proximity of our district, we felt that our students may need to process their feelings. I want to reassure our community that we are listening to our students and allowing them to express their thoughts as needed.”
He said that while Hazelwood has plans to deal with crisis situations within the district, handling something like the Ferguson unrest requires special sensitivity.
“Our main focus is to focus on learning and be there for our students if they need to process the information,” Tobias said. “What that means is listening, being highly visible, being highly vigilant, making sure that we are there are for our students as they sort out their feelings related to this situation.”
A statement posted on the Ferguson-Florissant website said:
“We are heartbroken by the tragic events of recent days in and around the city of Ferguson. We are planning to receive and provide support to our students when school begins this Thursday, Aug. 14, and we look forward to working closely with our community to heal and rebuild.”
In nearby Riverview Gardens, a spokesperson said they are referring students who may be troubled by the events to outside groups that partner with the district to provide counseling services.
Late Monday, the Normandy Schools Collaborative released this statement:
"The Normandy Schools Collaborative family is deeply saddened by the unexpected death of Michael Brown, a 2014 graduate of Normandy High School.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. As the district prepares for the first day of school on Monday, August 18, we understand that this may be a difficult time for our returning staff and students, especially those who knew him well. Grief counselors will be available to provide support to anyone requesting assistance.
"Our deepest condolences are with the Brown family."
Brown, 18, received his diploma from Normandy after attending summer classes. The district, which is in the midst of an intensive two-week period for teacher training before classes begin next Monday, would not make available any administrators for interviews or any official photos of Brown.
Tell us what you know
How is the police-community turmoil in Ferguson affecting you? Please respond through our Public Insight Network.
The St. Louis Public Radio uses this journalism tool to help us solicit knowledge and insight from people who become sources through the Network. Clickhere to share your experience.