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Here's why these school districts chose to start the year 100% online

Districts like Parkway, Kirkwood, Clayton and Hazelwood aren't returning to classrooms this August. Here's why

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — As schools release their reopening plans, a growing number have decided to start the year completely online.

In the in-person versus online debate, some say there's no replacement for face-to-face learning, while others argue that bringing kids back into the classroom right now is too great of a risk. As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the region, several schools that originally planned to give parents a choice have now decided to hold off on blended or in-person options.

Here are some area schools that have chosen 100% online learning for their students, and why they've made that choice.

Parkway School District

The Parkway School District said a recent survey revealed 67% of parents in the district preferred in-person learning. Despite that, the district announced Wednesday that it had abandoned its proposed "blended learning" model in exchange for full-time online learning for at least the first quarter of the school year. 

The letter cited a rise in COVID-19 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," a letter sent to parents said.

RELATED: Parkway parents to protest for in-class learning 5 days a week

The tightened restrictions don't apply to schools and other establishments that have been given separate guidelines, though Page has previously said that parents should choose online learning options if at all possible.

Kirkwood School District

At a special virtual board meeting Tuesday, the Kirkwood School District School Board voted to begin the school year completely online for the first nine weeks.

Prior to the meeting, superintendent Dr. David Ulrich had asked the school board to approve the all-online start, making the recommendation based upon the daily new cases of coronavirus. 

"Our daily new case rate per 100,000 people in St. Louis County is as high as it's ever been," Ulrich said at the meeting.

A ZIP code (63122) in the Kirkwood area recently was named a ‘hot spot’ by the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

READ MORE: Task force identifies 6 ZIP codes with most growth in COVID-19, says virus 'spreading pretty much everywhere'

Ulrich acknowledged that online learning would be a "hardship" for parents. "Kirkwood has the resources to be creative and to work to do whatever we can to meet parents' needs through this — hopefully, and I'm crossing my fingers — for only nine weeks."

Ulrich said students would be assigned teachers for online learning as if they were engaging face to face, in the hopes that after nine weeks, they can transition into in-person learning.

"And the relationships that have been built at that point will have been built with the right adult," Ulrich said.

RELATED: Kirkwood school board approves all-online start to school year

Clayton School District

Clayton School District said coronavirus rates led it to make the "difficult" decision to begin the first quarter in the Remote Learning phase of its Responsive Learning Plan. 

"This decision was based on the increasing rate of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis area, the current, significant delays in COVID-19 testing and concern that spread of the virus will disrupt continuity of learning," the district said.

Its goal is to return to in-person learning by the second quarter, with the option for families to continue learning at home.

"We want to be back in school as soon as possible," said Superintendent Sean Doherty, "and we believe that if we invest time during this first quarter, we will be better prepared to stay in school more consistently when we return to the buildings."

RELATED: 'There's so much panic' | How parents and organizations are preparing for virtual learning

Hazelwood School District

The Hazelwood School District will begin the school year under "Contingency Phase 2" of its reopening plan with a 100% online school model.

Once the coronavirus situation improves, a blended learning model will become an option.

“The Hazelwood School District plan and its contingencies are evidence that the safety of our school community is our top priority,” said Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of HSD. “We have listened to our stakeholders and believe this is the best way forward.”

The district stressed that the fall's virtual school experience would be completely different than the experience when school abruptly closed in the spring.

"We were in crisis mode,” Twillman Elementary teacher Laurie Martin said in a video explaining what the start of school would look like. “We were trying to make sure that school went on for all students, and we only had days to prepare for 100% virtual school.” 

RELATED: E-learning vs. virtual learning | How online classes will be different this fall

Pattonville School District

Pattonville School District hoped to offer a blended learning model this August, but on Wednesday it decided that it will start the year completely online. In order to ensure a smooth online transition, it will delay the first day of school until Aug. 31.

"As we consulted more with St. Louis County health officials and reviewed the spread of COVID-19 in our community, it became very clear that we could no longer move forward with students and staff returning to the classroom to begin the new school year," Superintendent Tim Pecoraro said in a letter to parents.

The school district will reevaluate in mid-October — or even sooner, if it's an option.

"I am heartbroken at having to begin the year online," Pecoraro said. 

"This decision was not made lightly. We know many of our students and families were looking forward to physically returning to school and this decision will cause difficulties for families who need to balance work, child care and supporting their children’s in-home learning. Most children learn best in the classroom, where they can experience learning in person and a teacher can better understand their students’ needs and strengths at a personal level. But the bottom line is that students and staff need to be safe first and foremost, and this decision ensures that priority can be accomplished."

The district said it is working to provide child care support for families and will communicate more information in the future.

RELATED: These St. Louis area schools have released their reopening plans