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St. Louis County health department recommends schools start virtually

Many school districts have already decided to start the school year online

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis County health department is recommending all schools begin the school year online, County Executive Sam Page announced during a press conference Thursday afternoon. 

"It is our strong recommendation that all schools open as virtual as possible in the fall," Page said.

The county sent a letter to area superintendents with a formal recommendation.

It is not a mandate, but the health department may take "further action to close schools or buildings that have outbreaks that further risk the health of residents," the letter says. 

Page said the health department will work with schools that have in-person options by providing health and safety guidelines. And he advised schools with plans to provide in-person instruction should be prepared to close in the event of an outbreak, including parochial and private schools. 

"Despite the thoughtful and protective planning that many have worked on these past months, the current level of community transmission poses the largest risk to the safety of our schools," the letter says. "Many of the new behaviors around mask wearing, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds are not yet universal. Even businesses and organizations that have done thorough cleaning and have been vigilant in their social distancing practices have had outbreaks due to the nature of the virus."

Press conference from the St. Louis County Department of Health, John C. Murphy Health Center.

Posted by County Executive Sam Page on Thursday, July 30, 2020

A representative from EducationPlus, an organization that provides professional development and networking for 54 area school districts and six charter schools, said he agrees with the recommendation. 

"Realistically, based on the current surge, we can’t bring kids back in any normal capacity," said Paul Ziegler, with EducationPlus.

Many school districts in St. Louis County have already shifted their plans and decided to start the school year 100% online, including some of the largest districts like Hazelwood and Parkway. Some school districts have not made their final decisions yet.

The decisions to begin the school year online has not been well-received by groups of parents. There have been protests at school board meetings in some districts.

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

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