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High School Administrators Make The Case For In-Person Learning

School Illustration
File | Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Many St. Louis-area high school students haven’t been back in the classroom since everything shut down suddenly in March.

Jennings High School was the first public high school in St. Louis County to open for in-person instruction during the pandemic. So far, the school has detected no positive COVID-19 cases among its students.

For Jennings School District Superintendent Art McCoy, that success has not come easily. The district is using plexiglass barriers, HEPA filters, temperature check stations and contact tracing.

“The protocols are effective, and you are able to do schooling during COVID and remain safe,” McCoy said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air. “Even among our 400 staff members, there’s only been seven cases, none of which were school contractions.”

Lutheran High School South, which has been open five days a week since August, has had a similar experience.

“It’s going really well. We’re now in our 11th week of school. We’ve had zero cases of community spread,” said Principal Jonathan Butterfield. “We’ve had six of our students and no faculty members this year who have tested positive — and plenty of kids quarantined due to exposure to family members or friends, so we know the virus is real — but we’ve learned that there’s a way to do school and life safely.”

During the show, McCoy and Butterfield explained how their schools have made in-person learning work in difficult circumstances. They also talked about why they feel it’s crucial that students have the opportunity to gather in face-to-face settings.

McCoy said that his students struggled when they weren’t in school. “They had anxiety, they had withdrawals, they had depression when they were not able to go out — and [were] being forced to be in their room for the most part — and not communicate, collaborate and actually celebrate with their peers,” he said.

His motivation to get students back in the classroom stemmed from his knowledge of what he called the “life epidemics” they face, such as “the possibility of being shot, the possibility of someone dying from a car accident, the possibility of something bad happening to them, them being homeless… being abused.”

“[These] epidemics are just as powerful, if not more powerful, than the pandemic of COVID-19,” McCoy said.

For 12th grader Camesha Joy, McCoy’s concern rings true. Lately, Joy has spoken out about a recent tragedy, the death of her 14-year-old brother, Harry Linnen Jr., who died in an accident last month. He was suspected of stealing a car from a dealership. Then he crashed into a drainage canal in Edwardsville.

Joy suggested that being stuck at home played a part in her brother’s state of mind as he took actions that ultimately led to his death.

“He was at home, bored most of the time, because with virtual learning, you don’t really have to jump up in the morning and get right on the computer. You can sleep all morning and do your work in the afternoon,” she said. “He was bored.”

Joy said her main focus now is on graduating this spring — a milestone she is very much looking forward to achieving.

For fellow students, who may be struggling with the hardships brought on by the pandemic, she offers this advice: “Even if you don’t think people care about you, there’s somebody out here that cares about your well-being. So I would say: ‘Get into something productive. Get your mind off the wrong stuff, and prepare for your future.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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