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Jennings students will test-run St. Louis County's new guidelines with Wednesday summer school session

Superintendents who worked on the guidelines say the plan is meant to be flexible, but experts call it "very ambitious"

JENNINGS, Mo. — When students fill the halls of Gary Gore Elementary School in Jennings Wednesday for the start of July summer school session, it will be a trial run of sorts.

"We have about 100 elementary, middle, and high school students at this location to be an incubator -- to pilot -- the practices that have been written for August when we bring all students back," Superintendent Dr. Art McCoy said.

McCoy helped craft the guidelines released to districts in St. Louis County Tuesday, so his district was already prepared for a number of changes, including an A-Day/B-Day schedule,  6-feet of social distancing between desks and rolling booths for high-risk teachers.

RELATED: Here are the guidelines St. Louis County schools should follow this fall

"We have a lot of outdoor activities, in addition to 10:1 ratio of students-to-staff," McCoy said of the social distancing measures.

They've also stocked up with 10,000 face masks.

But before kids ever step foot on campus, parents and students will fill out a daily health screening questionnaire through the Jennings website.

"This document talks about the 'musts' versus the 'mays,'" Hancock Place Superintendent Kevin Carl said of the guidelines, which he also contributed to. "We have been working nonstop since March. And the thing that I am the proudest of, is the collaboration."

Carl said the guidelines are not one-size-fits-all. It's meant to be flexible so each district can control the way they return to classroom instruction, making changes as the first bell nears.

"What it looks like on July 7 could be very different then ultimately what it looks like on Aug. 24," Carl said, referencing the first day of school.

Still, there are experts -- like Webster University's Basiry Rodney -- who call the guidelines "very ambitious."

"You know, schools look like they're going to have double and triple and quadruple lunch sessions now," Rodney, Department Chair for Teacher Education, said. "Who is going to manage those kinds of situations?"

Rodney note fulfilling the requirements would be especially difficult for the departments already stretched thin on staffing pre-coronavirus.

To complicate matters, school leaders say they are watching the case numbers closely and -- if they spike -- they are prepared to do an all-virtual fall semester.

Something all sides agree would not be the best situation for students.

"It's impossible to replicate what a teacher does in person, online," Carl said. 

Have a story idea or question? Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

RELATED: Missouri reports record number of new COVID-19 cases, number of hospitalized patients in St. Louis area increases slightly

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