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Back to school in St. Louis: Normal for some, different for others

Two superintendents told us what their plans are for post-winter-break education

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — Students around St. Louis heard the familiar sound of school bells and Zoom chimes again as classes picked back up after winter break.

Returning to instruction for some students, like the kids at Fort Zumwalt, is exactly the same as before they left for winter break. 

For students at St. Louis Public Schools, they have to wait a week to get back in a physical classroom. 

St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams told 5 On Your Side the district decided to do online learning for the week of Jan. 4th and then transition back to in-person to create distance between holiday celebrations and the return to school. 

After the buffer week, SLPS students will have to option to return to in-person learning. For the first time of the 2020-2021 school year, in-person learning also includes middle school and high school students. 

Adams broke down the percentage of students returning to in-person eduction:

  • 50% of elementary school students
  • 60-65% of middle school students
  • 35-40% of high school students

Those numbers were pulled before winter break, the district will get firmer totals later this week.

Schools in the Fort Zumwalt School District are also in session again, but they are still wrapping up their first semester. 

"Right now it's not too much different," Superintendent Bernard DuBray tells 5 On Your Side, "Once the second semester starts, there'll be some additional kids in class. We had about 3000 students that were on virtual the first semester and about 1000 of them have elected to come back."

DuBray does not expect the 1,000-student addition to make a measurable difference to in-person learning. The returning students range in grade level from kindergarten to 12th grade and the numbers are fairly evenly dispersed. 

Both superintendents faced big, but different hurdles this year. DuBray said Ft. Zumwalt's biggest challenge was social distancing trying to keep kids apart, especially the high school students. 

At St. Louis Public Schools, Adams says the biggest challenge was getting students to log on regularly for their online classes. 

"We had a higher percentage of elementary and middle school students logging on, on a regular basis. It was much more a challenge for high school students."

Adams says the goal for the second semester is to get more engagement online. Teachers will also try a new approach to coursework by assigning weekly, instead of daily. 

SLPS will also try to engage online learners in new ways by offering virtual field trips. 

Adams' advice for his students is to stay flexible through the new year and DuBray's is to stay the course. 

5 On Your Side also reached out to the Wentzville School District who had an abrupt switch to online learning in November. High school and middle school classes went all virtual in the days leading up to Christmas.

As school resumed Monday in Wentzville, high school and middle school students returned to in-person learning, five days a week. 

Like Ft. Zumwalt schools, the Wentzville district is still completing its first semester. When the second semester begins on January 20th, about 16% of students will continue virtually. Enrollment for Wentzville's Virtual Academy is down 4% from the first semester when 20% of students chose online education. 

Protocols for in-person learning will remain the same for Wentzville schools:

  • Contact tracing in conjunction with the St. Charles County Department of Public Health when a student or staff member tests positive. 
  • Anyone identified as a close contact is disclosed to the health department and notified as to whether or not they are on a standard quarantine or a modified quarantine. 
  • Those on a standard quarantine may not come to school/work and those on a modified quarantine may only come to school/work. 
  • Anyone who was not a close contact, but was potentially exposed (in the same classroom, on the bus, or on the same team/club) is also notified.

Wentzville School District Director of Community Relations Mary K. LaPak says the district is proud of their people, "Our teachers continue to do amazing things - both in person and virtually - for students. They have had to pivot and adapt to changes this year like never before, as we all have. Our support staff and administrators have also risen to the occasion and have gone above and beyond, pitching in to assist when needed. And our students have done a remarkable job of following the universal protocols — wearing masks, washing hands, and distancing whenever and wherever possible."

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