ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Public Schools are going all online.
In a meeting Tuesday of the Board of Education, SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams told board members that despite the earlier plan to offer three options including in-person classes, the practical choice had narrowed to one.
“I’m recommending that all students be online for instruction, at least through the first quarter,” he said.
School will start on Monday, Aug. 31, two weeks later than planned, to give faculty time to learn the necessary new skills and practices. The first quarter will end Oct. 16. At that point, the district will re-assess the method of instruction.
Many parents who responded to a questionnaire the district sent them in June wanted their children to be in classrooms, Adams acknowledged. But the COVID-19 coronavirus has been spreading more rapidly than ever, especially among young people.
Adams noted that with ongoing delays in getting results from COVID-19 testing, a person suspected of having the infection might have to wait 14 days to get the verdict. During that time, he or she might spread the virus to many more people. Thorough contact tracing over that span of time is virtually impossible, especially with the limited number of contact tracers versus the rising number of people who may have the virus.
The superintendent also noted a deep drop in the number of available teachers.
“Over the last two weeks, the number of teacher vacancies has increased,” he said, “and, which is much more problematic for us is that we don’t see the number of persons signing contracts with us as in the past.” Fewer of the district’s teachers may return – and fewer teachers are applying overall, not just for city schools, Adams said.
Not only teachers but staff are in short supply. Adams noted that the district has 68 buildings to be kept clean and in working order – and there aren’t enough custodians.
Administrators, teachers, staff and students will all have to make adjustments, and not just about technology.
“As you might imagine,” Adams reminded board members, “There are students who have never met their teachers. And so we have to make sure that there is a connection that takes place.”
For families who can’t keep their children home, or have children who need in-person help, the district plans to open what Adams called “instructional support centers.” He’s looking for groups such as the YMCA to provide venues for the centers, which would be open from 8 a.m. to 3:30.
There, children would be in groups of 10 or fewer students. They would still be taught virtually by the teacher, but would get extra help from district staff.
Those centers would also serve as food distribution sites. The district has been providing about 2,200 grab-and-go meals every Friday for all district families, and Adams said he hoped that would continue.
Right now, the end date for the food program is Aug. 31, because the district expected children to be back in school buildings for meals. Adams said he’d be meeting with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to discuss the new meal program.
Currently, people picking up food don’t have to show any ID or be members of the school district. That might change, depending on DESE requirements.
Meanwhile, the city’s health department scotched the district’s plan to hold high school graduation ceremonies Thursday at Busch Stadium.
“To say we are disappointed would be an understatement,” Adams said in a statement. “Our graduates have been so resilient during the pandemic and were forced to give up other end-of-the-year milestones like prom. We really wanted to give them a special ceremony worthy of their achievements. That said, just because we won’t get to celebrate them in the way we had hoped, the Class of 2020 will always be special. They not only completed the coursework and earned their diplomas, they adapted, persevered and achieved.”