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Fearing COVID In Schools, Some St. Louis Families Will Keep Kids Home And Learning Online

Emily McBride logs into her virtual classroom in the Ladue School District last year. She's one of many St. Louis-area students who will continue virtual learning in the fall.
Susan McBride
Emily McBride logs into her virtual classroom in the Ladue School District last year. She's one of many St. Louis area students who will continue virtual learning in the fall.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, 9-year-old Emily McBride used to enthusiastically jump out of the car and skip into Reed Elementary School in Ladue.

Her morning ritual has changed slightly during the pandemic. There are no car rides, crowded desks or chatty classmates, but there’s still time to skip.

“Her virtual classroom became what she was excited about,” said Emily’s mom, Susan McBride.

This year, Emily will be entering fourth grade through Missouri’s virtual learning program, Launch. The McBrides are one of many families in the St. Louis area choosing to continue online learning in the fall.

Although school districts are open for in-person learning, families are choosing to stick to online learning to keep their kids safe as the number of coronavirus cases rises in the St. Louis region.

“We’ve gotten used to this,” McBride said. “It just works for us, and we won’t feel good about sending her back into the school building until she’s vaccinated.”

 Susan and Emily McBride celebrate Emily's birthday virtually in 2020.
Provided by Susan McBride
Susan and Emily McBride celebrate Emily's birthday with friends virtually in 2020.

The federal Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved the vaccine for children age 11 and younger. That figures into the back-to-school plans of many families.

Joe Mounce suffers from heart disease, making him vulnerable to COVID-19. He said his daughter Samantha is scared to return to Warner Elementary in the St. Louis Public Schools District.

“She’s scared because she doesn’t want to get me sick. She's not ready to lose her daddy yet,” Mounce said. “That’s what’s going through her head. Because of what’s going on, she’s 9 years old and has to think about that.”

But Mounce also found unexpected benefits to online learning. Once the family adjusted to virtual schooling, he saw his daughter was more comfortable learning from home.

“She had almost perfect attendance because she wasn’t getting sick all the time,” Mounce said. “All she had to do was get up and go to the computer. It made life easier for her.”

Marthe Schmitt, the mother of a fifth grader at Hagemann Elementary in the Mehlville School District, was surprised how well her daughter adjusted to virtual schooling. Schmitt was concerned that her child, who has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, would lose social skills but found the opposite.

“The virtual program resulted in her making more friends than she ever had before,” Schmitt said. “The conventional wisdom is kids need to be in school to be socialized, but I actually saw her do better socially out of school.”

Still, Schmitt wishes her daughter could be back in the classroom with those friends face-to-face. But, she doesn’t feel schools are safe enough to return to yet.

“There’s nothing I would like more than to put my kid on the bus and have things go back to normal,” Schmitt said. “There’s a longing for the days before the pandemic, but that’s not going to happen. We’re just trying to do the best we can with how things are.”

In Ladue, McBride is preparing for another online school year. She’s working hard to make sure Emily has the same happy memories from home that she did in the school building.

“I want to keep her safe, but I don’t want to deprive her of her friends or any of the things that she loves. That’s been my task for this past year and a half,” McBride said. “And that’s going to be my full-time job this year.”

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33