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Parkway to begin school year 100% virtually

The Parkway School District said recent developments have caused it to abandon its proposed "blended learning" model for full-time online learning

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — The Parkway school district will start out the school year completely online.

In a letter to parents and staff Wednesday morning, Superintendent Keith Marty and Board of Education President Jeff Todd said recent developments with the coronavirus pandemic have caused the district to abandon its proposed "blended learning" model in exchange for full-time online learning.

The letter cited a rise in coronavirus cases and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's recent tightening of coronavirus restrictions, which starting Friday will ban gatherings of 50 or more people and limit businesses to 25% capacity.

"We simply cannot engage in face-to-face learning in a high quality way under these updated health guidelines," the letter said.

In a recent survey sent out to parents, the district had asked how they'd like their children to start out their school year on Aug. 24: 67% of families responded that they preferred in-person learning and 33% preferred virtual learning. 

The district had originally planned to place families who chose the in-person option into groups that would attend school on Wednesdays and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"We realize this will be a disappointment for families who chose the in-person experience," the district said. "It is disappointing to us as well. We worked extremely hard to find a way to get students back in school. We remain committed to getting students back in the schools as soon as possible because that is where they thrive the best."

A group of Parkway parents planned to protest the district's back-to-school plan Wednesday evening. They said they want their students in class five days a week.

Parents who opposed the original "blended learning" plan said it had many logistical, health and academic issues — and they want their children in school full time.

5 On Your Side's Sara Machi spoke to Lindsay Petefish, who is a parent in the school district.

"My first reaction was just, 'Man, OK, here we go," she said.

"He's just so little. I think that's really where it comes into play is he's so young online learning is obviously not ideal. So how much is he actually going to learn this year. How much is he really going to take in?"

"I keep saying I'm not a kindergarten teacher for a reason. And that's because I'm not sure that I can, you know, get him to where he needs to be."

Governor Parson meets with district leaders

Gov. Mike Parson met with leaders from a dozen school districts in St. Louis city and county Wednesday to hear their concerns about and plans for going back to school.

"They're gonna do whatever it takes to keep those kids safe, and they're gonna do whatever it takes to keep the administration, the teachers and everyone else involved in the school system," he said.

Parson said what he heard from administrators in St. Louis was different than what he heard from school leaders in other parts of the state. That's why he supports local decision-making instead of a state-wide plan. 

"You gotta give those local areas flexibility to decide what's best for their communities," he said.

Below is the full statement Parkway sent to parents Wednesday morning:

"Dear Families and Staff,

As I mentioned these past few months, it is clear we must all be flexible and patient during these historic times. I cannot tell you how thankful and proud I am to work in a community that has been so supportive, flexible and indeed patient as we navigate our time together.

I also want to thank you for responding so quickly to our survey asking for your back-to-school learning preferences. We realize we didn’t give you and your family much time to consider the options and get your questions answered. We learned that 67% of families currently prefer in-person learning and 33% prefer virtual learning. Our next step was going to be to place families who chose the in-person option into groups to attend school either on Wednesdays and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursdays.

However, these plans have now changed.

Due to the continued increasing spread of COVID-19 in the region, on Monday St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued a new directive prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people and limiting businesses to 25% capacity beginning this Friday. In order to help contain the spread of the virus, we simply cannot engage in face-to-face learning in a high quality way under these updated health guidelines. Additionally, current CDC guidelines state that schools should make decisions based on the level of virus transmission in the local community, which is currently at an all-time high. So per our Return to Learn plan, we need to switch to Distance Learning for all students. I have also shared a video update here.

Instead of starting on August 24 under the blended learning model (Option 1, Plan B as outlined in this video and in this graphic), we will begin with Option 1, Plan C which is Distance Learning, full-time learning online with Parkway teachers.

We realize this will be a disappointment for families who chose the in-person experience. It is disappointing to us as well. We worked extremely hard to find a way to get students back in school. We remain committed to getting students back in the schools as soon as possible because that is where they thrive the best.

We will re-evaluate prior to the end of the nine-week quarter on October 23. At that time, if it is safe to do so, we will switch back to Option 1, Plan B for families who chose the in-person learning option. At that time, families who selected Option 2, Parkway Virtual Campus, will be able to continue learning virtually. Before making any changes, we will re-confirm your preferences for either the in-person Plan B or to remain in the Parkway Virtual Campus option for the second quarter.

While we are in Distance Learning, all Parkway schools will use the same schedule and expectations already in place for Parkway Virtual Campus. To see school schedules and learn more about how Distance Learning will differ from the emergency learning that was in place last spring, please visit the Distance Learning page.

While this change is disappointing, doing so now will allow your child’s school and teachers to begin reaching out to you earlier and provide certainty for the start of the school year while we all deal with very uncertain times.

We sincerely apologize for this unexpected change to the start of school, and the impact it will have on many families. We will communicate with you along the way, and do everything we can to support you and your child’s learning. We appreciate your continued patience as we now all prepare to start the school year online.

Sincerely,

Dr. Keith Marty, Superintendent

Jeff Todd, Board of Education President"