SLPS, Parkway and Kirkwood will start 100-percent online learning in fall

Saint Louis Public, Parkway, Kirkwood and KIPP schools have announced that they will start with 100-percent online learning this fall and re-evaluate the option of in-person classes in mid-October.

They join Hazelwood, Ferguson-Florissant, Ritneour, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, and Affton schools in quickly shifting to these plans, due to the increased spread of COVID-19 in the region.

SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams said a recent survey shows that 65 percent of district families don’t feel safe sending their children to school. The St. Louis teachers union has also pushed for 100-percent online learning. 

Kirkwood and Parkway school leaders said the St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s order on July 27 to restrict gatherings to less than 50 people indoors weighed into their decision. Page also noted that young people continue to see an increase in new cases, with the steepest increase among people ages 10 to 19. 

“Current CDC guidelines state that schools should make decisions based on the level of virus transmission in the local community, which is currently at an all-time high,” stated Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty and Jeff Todd, board president, in a July 29 letter to families. “We realize this will be a disappointment for families who chose the in-person experience. It is disappointing to us as well.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force has been reporting for the past week thatKirkwood, Chesterfield and Frontenac are among the zip codes that are seeing the most rapid growth in new COVID-19 cases. The task force has also reported that African Americans are four times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 2.5 times more likely be admitted to the hospital than non-black patients. About 80 percent of Saint Louis Public’s 20,000 students are black. 

Parkway will begin on Aug. 24. SLPS will push back its start date to August 31 and spend the next two weeks training teachers, getting students the technology they need and offering tech support to families, said Superintendent Kelvin Adams at the board meeting on Tuesday, July 27.

However, the SLPS intends to open up to 20 sites, where students who need extra support can come to a classroom with at most 10 other students (ideally 5 to 6) and complete their assignments or classes with support staff, Adams said. These students will also receive meals and transportation.

SLPS Board President Dorothy Rohde-Collins said she was deeply saddened that federal and state leaders chose to prioritize the economy over children and their safety these past months. These decisions have given school districts no choice but to go virtual, which will hurt the district’s vulnerable students the most, she said.

“Structuring it in this way and saying, ‘We will have some places open because we know you need us,’ is going to be something that we look back on and are proud of having offered,” said Rohde-Collins. “It’s important to me — to the extent that it is safe — we are able to offer these sites to the families that need us.”

Adams also said every school building will be open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day with an administrator present, which will offer teachers a place to hold classes and families a place to come if they need assistance. The district will also continue to offer meal pick-up locations.  

About 58 percent of families said they wanted to have a teacher leading an online class throughout the day, and only 5 percent said they wanted to do self-directed online studies. Both options are available to families, Adams said.

Kirkwood Superintendent David Ulrich said during a July 28 school board meeting that the decision needed to be made now so teachers and families had time to prepare. 

“This will be a hardship for many parents in our district,” Ulrich said. “There are equity issues and student wellness issues that we need to take seriously.”

Kirkwood has the “resources to be creative,” he said, and to work to meet the needs of parents, including potentially engaging small groups of students in person.

Students who have special needs will be most affected, said Rohde-Collins, because their learning plans require one-on-one attention. Adams said that this is a challenge districts throughout the country are facing. Rohde-Collins said she would like the superintendent’s team to “flesh out” how these services will be made available to families. 

She said, “Those are really, in a lot of ways, lifesaving and grounding for the families who receive those services.”

Kelly Garrett, executive director of KIPP St. Louis, said in a July 29 Facebook post that the decision to start virtually on Aug. 24 was “difficult” but necessary for their families’ safety. KIPP St. Louis will host a Back to School family Zoom meeting tonight (July 29) at 6 p.m. 

“Though none of us could have imagined a year ago that we would start this new school year virtually,” Garrett said, “we are eager to ‘see’ your KIPPster online in just a few short weeks.”

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