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Governor says plans are to open schools in the fall

Posted on Thursday, July 2, 2020 at 10:44 am

Surge in positive COVID-19 cases came from a backlog of tests

By Stan Schwartz

JEFFERSON CITY—Gov. Mike Parson met with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Kansas City area chambers last week, and the news, he said, is positive.
Parson said that a jump in COVID-19 cases came from a backlog of 14,000 tests that were just finished earlier in the week. Out of those 14,000 tests, about 160 were positive.
“The good news is,” Parson said, is that there were more than 13,000 negative results from those tests.
His meeting with the chambers of commerce were to see how to get people back into businesses and help them to a more normal lifestyle, he noted.
“We have to keep going with the economy, to keep building our business platforms in this state, focus on infrastructure and workforce development, at the same time deal with the virus and make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep the people of this state safe,” Parson said. He noted that school season is not too far away.
“Here we are thinking about opening the schools and universities again,” he said. He had Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven speak about the state’s efforts in opening schools this fall.
Vandeven expressed her gratitude to the school leaders, teachers and support staff and the families for working to take care of the school children after the coronavirus forced the shutdown of the state’s schools.
With just two months to go before the fall school year starts, Vandeven said, “The situation continues to evolve, and there are still many uncertainties.
But what they do know, she added, is that there is a great digital divide in the state. Even though educational opportunities continued during the school building closures, one in five of the students could not take part in those options, she said.
“That means making any kind of long-term remote learning a real challenge for those students,” she said. “We also know that families count on our schools for more than just education.” The schools in the state served more than 19 million meals while the buildings have been closed.
Hotline calls about child abuse are down by 50 percent, she added, because many of the educators are the ones who make the tough decision to make those calls. The disruption to students’ normal routines may have in impact on their social and emotional growth.
She said that she understands that the schools being open are important part of the state’s economic recovery.
“Parents who work outside the home and don’t have a way to do their work remotely, a left with limited affordable child care options, and are often forced not to work,” Vandeven said. Even though the school closures were necessary, she added, there can be serious consequences from students not attending classes regularly.
Keeping all this in mind, she said, officials are working on ways to open the schools, while at the same time protecting the children and preventing the spread of the virus.
With all that said, the state is going to leave it up to the schools at the local level to work with their local health officials, families, staff members and communities on how they want to open this fall.
“Many districts and charter schools across the state have asked their families and staff members what their comfort levels are when it comes to school reopening,” she said. The results of these informal polls tell them that they want to be back in school, “learning in-person, but with extra precautions.” Vandeven noted.
They recently hosted a webinar with the help of the DHSS for the local health officials and school leaders to discuss the guidance.

What to expect
• More communication to families about the importance of staying home when sick. The state is encouraging schools to do away with perfect attendance awards or attendance incentive programs as part of this shift away from toughing it out and attending classes while ill. This will change at the state level, too, she added, because attendance records are used for accountability measures and school funding calculations. The state is going to waive this metric for state schools.
• There will be an increase on the emphasis of good hygiene, screening, social distancing and the use of masks, where appropriate.
• A continuation of school leaders and local health officials working together.
“For example,” she said, “school leaders can help make contact tracing a simple and efficient as possible for health officials, should a positive case occur. This means having organized documentation to account for student and staff members and their interactions.”

Other issues
before schools open
• Creation of a taskforce of educators for learning acceleration, working to develop to help schools identify specific gaps in student learning academically and in regards to social and emotional development.
• A continued focus on the digital divide by addressing access to technology and the internet.
• More training for educators through professional development to deal with the changes that are coming. The state is currently working with a number of educators on developing a video series on the distance learning strategies that have worked well.