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Back-to-school questions answered by a St. Louis area superintendent

5 On Your Side is focusing on giving you facts and not spreading fear. If you have a question about school reopening plans, text us at 314-444-5125
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ST. LOUIS — This school year will look unlike any other as districts and families make difficult decisions in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We know there is uncertainty as parents, students, educators and staff members prepare to return to school, however that may look.

That’s why 5 On Your Side is focusing on giving you facts and not spreading fear.

We are taking your questions and concerns straight to the experts. 5 On Your Side is partnering with superintendents and physicians to answer some of your top questions. You can read the responses below.

If you have a question, you can text us at 314-444-5125. This is a text-only line. Follow our latest COVID-19 coverage at KSDK.com/coronavirus and on the 5 On Your Side app.

Credit: KSDK
Do you have questions about back-to-school plans? Text us at 314-444-5125.

Back-to-school coverage:

The following questions were answered by Hancock Place Superintendent Kevin Carl. He’s also a chairman-elect of EducationPlus, which is a nonprofit agency with 58 school districts in the St. Louis that works “to provide leadership and resources to support learning, equity and innovation to maximize student success.”

How will social distancing be enforced?

Districts will focus on educating and teaching students about the importance of social distance. Signage, physical classroom arrangement, engineered barriers and floor markings will assist in providing reinforcement of expectations.

What will classrooms look like this year?

Classrooms will have desks separated to reinforce distancing. There will be an emphasis on keeping students in cohorts as much as possible.

How will struggling schools get the funding they need to teach students virtually?

There are certainly increased costs associated with moving to virtual instruction. Bridging the digital divide is necessary in every school district. Resources from the CARES Act are specifically identified for schools to use for COVID-19-related expenditures. St. Louis County has provided PPE and other supplies to schools.

How can you prevent cheating when students are at home?

Academic integrity is important in both a physical and virtual setting. Districts are planning significant opportunities for synchronous teaching which allows teachers to evaluate and assess student knowledge and competencies in real time. There also are electronic resources which teachers and districts us to screen student work for plagiarism. This is an important area to consider as districts increase our virtual engagement with students. I’m certain there will be great ideas from teachers and schools to minimize this concern.

How will sport and extracurricular opportunities be impacted? There are many athletes and students who have worked their whole lives for a scholarship.

The impact on sports is an unfortunate situation for student athletes, parents and coaches. Each have worked hard to prepare for their sport and it is a disappointing situation. Unfortunately, it is difficult to conduct practices and competitive athletics in a distanced environment, which is one of the primary COVID-19 protocols. If schools are completely virtual, MSHSAA has stated sports cannot occur. 

What’s the importance of social interaction at different ages?

Students grow socially and emotionally from interacting with each other at every level. A student’s sense of self and well being is often reinforced through interactions with peers and adults.

If there is a positive case in a classroom, will everyone in that classroom quarantine for two weeks? If so, do they go to virtual learning?

These situations are case specific and very dependent on the details of the situation. There is no singular response to this scenario. Contact tracing protocols will be implemented by the local health department and, in some cases, by the school district. 

At what point would you close schools? 40% out?? Similar to flu numbers or just a few cases?

Decisions to close school are made in conjunction with local health department officials, collaboration with area school districts and monitoring of cases. There are no absolute metrics to close schools.

Why are some schools not requiring masks?

Districts are following the guidance of their local health departments. In many districts, the recommendations are being exceeded to promote the safest possible environment. Recommendations are based on a number of factors, including community spread numbers, the number of cases of COVID-19 and health department recommendations.

How long will they expect kids to spend doing online learning each day?

This will vary by age of student and content matter. Each school district will provide guidance and information regarding the expectations.

What will the virtual day look like for middle and high school children? Can you give me an outline of times expected online and work expected for each level?

This will vary by district. It will be important for parents to stay connected and review all communications from their local school.

Why even chance reopening schools right now?

It will depend on the area where the school is located in conjunction with guidance from local health officials.

What are you going to do to ensure [teachers’] safety? Will the district provide PPE for every single teacher for every single day?

Districts are taking a number of steps to provide the safest environment for teachers. Protocols for teachers will be communicated from each district consistent with local health departments and orders from local government officials.