Two weeks into the school year, many students and parents are still on edge: the delta variant is spreading, and vaccines still aren’t accessible to children under the age of 12. St. Louis schools are presenting a united front against COVID-19 in response to the uncertainty.
On Wednesday, Sept. 8th, members of the St. Louis Schools Collaborative — comprised of St. Louis Public Schools, plus most major charter schools and networks in the City — released a statement reaffirming their commitment to COVID safety in schools.
Kelvin Adams, SLPS superintendent, wrote in a statement, “We, as school leaders, are working together to address the greater concerns of the pandemic and ensure healthy school environments for all students, families, and staff.”
The collaborative meets monthly to share health and safety best practices, and began meeting about a year ago.
At SLPS, as well as several charter schools in the district, a vaccination is mandatory for teachers and staff. Some charters, including the Confluence Academies system, have chosen not to mandate staff vaccinations. Others, including Citygarden Montessori, have done so.
In all area schools, students older than two are expected to wear masks while in school buildings and on school transportation, as are all employees. Children are required to maintain a social distance of three feet and adults are expected to maintain a six-foot distance.
In many cases, however, it is impossible due to space and time constraints to maintain these COVID-minimizing measures. Carter-Oliver acknowledges this, saying that in order to make social distancing and masking work as well as possible, the key is to “modify plans and schedules.”
In some schools in the collaborative, lunch periods have been staggered to ensure that students are able to distance while eating. In others, arrival and dismissal periods have been altered in order to avoid bottlenecks.
And vaccinations, while critical, aren’t the only part of the solution: masking, distancing, and sanitation are making a difference, even as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to spread.
“It's not just one effort, it is a combination of all of them together, that then creates a safe environment,” Carter-Oliver said.
Five-hundred-six SLPS students were placed into quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure during the week of August 27th through September 2nd, the second week of school for the district. Most were quarantined due to a potential in-school exposure, and most of those affected were elementary schoolers. However, only 30 positive cases from that week have been confirmed thus far. All but three of those cases have not been due to school contact. Out of a total district population of about 23,000 students, these numbers remain relatively low.
Each charter, meanwhile, reports their numbers individually: in the Confluence Academies network, for example, 12 students were quarantined by the end of week one, according to Carter-Oliver.
Among faculty and staff at SLPS, only seven people were quarantined by the end of the week of August 2.
As the SLPS data dashboard says, most quarantines end up being uninfected students. “Our practice is to err on the side of safety and quarantine any student or unvaccinated staff member that has potentially had a close contact with a positive individual, even if it means higher numbers of quarantines. The good news is that our protocols are working well.”
SLPS mandated vaccination for all employees the day after the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine received full FDA approval. All employees must be fully vaccinated by October 15, or risk disciplinary action.
The collaborative plans to continue working together to assess and distribute health information going forward, Carter-Oliver said. “We're all together...pushing the information out for everyone that’s interested.”