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St. Louis Public Schools' Building Consolidation Plan On Hold

The playground at Shaw VPA Elementary School sits empty on Thursday afternoon, March 19, 2020.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The playground at Shaw VPA Elementary School sits empty last month. St. Louis Public Schools has delayed a plan of which schools to close for good.

When St. Louis Public Schools was unexpectedly forced last month to hit the pause button on the school year and close all its buildings, it also had to pause its efforts to decide which schools to close for good.

SLPS was about halfway through a multi-month process to reimagine its physical presence throughout the city. The original public forums were held, but Superintendent Kelvin Adams never had a chance to present a plan to the school board. Now, it seems like a low priority.

The district’s current priority, said board president Dorothy Rohde-Collins, is to make sure students are fed and safe while schools are closed in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

SLPS has 68 buildings. When they’re being used to educate kids, the majority of them are less than half full as the district’s enrollment declines by a few hundred each year. The district, which once educated more than 110,000 kids, now has barely 20,000.

Having students in fewer buildings over the long term will save money and allow the district to provide more academic and extra-curricular options, as well as provide more social-emotional support.

But those reasons are moot with all school buildings closed up in the short term. The board met virtually Tuesday for two hours to discuss the district’s distance learning plan, rather than hear Adams’ pitch on consolidation, as originally planned.

Social distancing and stay-at-home measures mean schools in St. Louis and around the nation have had to quickly shift to a fully online format. Ones that serve a lower-income population, such as SLPS, have a wider digital divide to close, as well as other obstacles.

The district has spent about $100,000 on tablet computer and mobile internet hotspots to distribute to students who don’t have devices and internet access at home. It’s also frantically training teachers how to use internet platforms to deliver lessons remotely. 

“Many of them were not” familiar with how to do that, Adams told the board. “Teachers were all over the place. This has been a big lift for them.”

All coursework for the rest of the school year will be pass-fail. State standardized testing is canceled, and attendance won’t be monitored. 

Schools are closed through at least April 22 in the St. Louis area, though there’s little optimism this school year will return to normalcy.

As for when parents will see a presentation on what schools could be closed or consolidated? “Not in the near future,” Rohde-Collins said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.