Missouri school officials have been putting a lot of effort into developing reopening plans designed to help protect staff, students, and their families during the COVID-19 era. Gov. Mike Parson is traveling around the state this week to hear from teachers and administrators about their back-to-school plans. He has made stops in Jefferson City, Neosho, Springfield, and the St. Louis area. He is traveling today to Kansas City.
At a roundtable in Jefferson City, Blair Oaks R-II School District Superintendent Jim Jones says his district is finalizing a plan.
“I think the most important element when we got back to March 18 was, when are students, and parents, and grandparents and patrons going to be 100% confident going back to school? You know, I’m not so sure we’re ever going to have 100% confidence of 100% of the people. But, what we want to do is we want to create every opportunity possible to provide them with the resources that are going to allow them to have the highest comfort level possible,” says Jones.
Many schools are planning to use a variety of efforts, including online classes, plexiglass barriers, different class rotations, providing masks and sanitizer, delaying the start of the school year, among other things.
“Believe it or not, we’ve found out during summer school that if teachers remove a lot of stuff that is not really educationally related, you can create a lot of additional space for students in your classroom,” says Jones.
He says Blair Oaks is the seventh lowest-spending school district in Missouri.
“We’ve addressed teacher salaries. We went from 25th to 5th in the same region over time,” says Jones. “We know that the most important resource in our district is our people. But, in this situation right here, it’s more than just people. We’ve got to do all we can to protect all our students, faculty, and staff.”
A central Missouri middle school teacher, Jill Verslues, told the governor that many classrooms are not big enough to provide adequate social distance.
“A normal classroom could be 25-30 kids, plus you throw in a co-teacher, some A-plus students, paraprofessional, you know how many people do you have in there? There is no way in those classrooms to social distance if we’re doing all the kids at the same time,” she says.
Verslues says she represents many teachers who have anxiety about going back to school.
“You know, we’re going to do it. We love our students. We’re going to do it because that’s our job, but that anxiety does come and especially for teachers who have children at home with autoimmune deficiency syndromes or are taking care of their elderly parents,” she says.
Missouri National Guard soldiers have helped with the state’s response to COVID-19. They have been performing a variety of roles, including help with community testing events, transporting personal protective equipment, entering test results into the state’s reporting system, and retrofitting a temporary hospital site in the St. Louis region. An idea was also brought up during the roundtable about the possibility of having guard members get involved in school duties, such as substitute teaching.
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