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As School Year Continues, Some Students Return To Classroom, Others Stay Home

Students raise their hands during a summer school program in the Jennings School District. The north St. Louis County district was one of the first public schools in the St. Louis area to reopen to students.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Some school districts in the St. Louis region have brought students back to school after starting virtually or are planning to. Meanwhile, some schools have had to close after teachers tested positive for COVID-19.

Some students in the St. Louis region have returned to classrooms, while others have abruptly shifted to learning from home. It’s a sign of how fluid the first half of this school year could be as educators navigate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In Madison County, depending on where their last name fell in the alphabet, Tuesday or Wednesday was kids’ first day of being in classrooms as the district brings its 6,400 students back on a hybrid schedule after three weeks of remote schooling.

“There was nerves, and there was some anxiety, but there was also a lot of smiles and happy faces, because our students, I think, appreciated that they were coming back to school,” Superintendent Brad Skertich said Tuesday afternoon.

Collinsville started the year remotely in August because a number of staff members either were sick with COVID-19 or potentially exposed, Skertich said, making it logistically impossible to open buildings.

Skertich said now staff are back to full health, and after consulting with county health officials, the administration felt it had the health safety measures in place to bring students back.

“We had that opportunity, and we thought we could do it in a safe path, so we took it and made that decision to come back to have in-person instruction,” he said.

Seventy percent of district students are coming to schools on alternating days, while the remaining 30% have chosen to continue learning from home.

Having kids in schools and in front of their teachers is important for kids’ optimal learning as well as getting them nutritional meals, Skertich said.

A national survey by news outlet Education Week found a small increase — 9% — in in-person learning happening nationwide from the start of the school year.

In nearby Edwardsville, children in kindergarten through fifth grade are in their second week of being in school five days a week. Older students remain on a hybrid schedule.

Administrators said they made the move because health research shows the coronavirus has less impact on younger children, even though community transmission remains high in Madison County.

“The new procedures and protocols have proven to be effective mitigation strategies in our schools,” Superintendent Jason Henderson said in a letter to families Sept. 4, in which he also cautioned parents the district may need to scale back in-person learning in the future.

The largest district in St. Louis County, Rockwood, announced Friday it will begin the process of bringing its youngest students back to school.

Superintendent Mark Miles told reporters he has confidence in the move because of the disease's lesser effect on young children.

“Looking at those transmission rates, the health rates of those ages 0-9, it seems, the data would indicate that those are the safest ages of students to bring back to our schools first,” he said.

But also in St. Louis County, two Catholic elementary schools are closed because of possible exposure to the virus. The schools in Crestwood and Shrewsbury are closed for two weeks.

Several school districts in St. Charles and Jefferson counties have had students or staff test positive for COVID-19 since the summer, some through extracurriculars, according to media reports collected by the National Education Association, a teachers union.

Freeburg High School in St. Clair County closed for two weeks after a teacher tested positive and possibly exposed other teachers in mid-August. The school has since reopened.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Becca Clark-Callender contributed reporting.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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