Mehlville Board of Education votes to start school year virtually

A+Mehlville+School+District+employee+hands+out+emergency+food+boxes+from+Operation+Food+Search+to+students+receiving+grab-and-go+meals+while+students+are+out+of+school+during+the+pandemic.+

A Mehlville School District employee hands out emergency food boxes from Operation Food Search to students receiving grab-and-go meals while students are out of school during the pandemic.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously in an in-person meeting Wednesday night to  start the 2020-2021 school year entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising cases in the St. Louis region. 

The meeting took place in the William B. Nottelmann Auditorium at Mehlville High School, with seats sectioned off for social distancing, although only one member of the public came to speak. 

A video of the meeting livestream can be seen on the district’s YouTube channel at this link.

The first day of school would still be Tuesday, Aug. 25. The board did not include a set end date for virtual learning, with Superintendent Chris Gaines preferring the flexibility to get back into the classrooms as soon as possible once transmission rates and positivity rates lowered to more acceptable levels rather than waiting through a whole quarter or semester. The district will give three days’ notice before switching back to in-school.

“For us, guidance from St. Louis County health has been the primary influencer for school based decisions in the region. On July 30 they recommended districts start in as virtual an environment as possible,” said Gaines in his recommendation to the board Wednesday night. “According to our plan of at school, blended or connected (virtual) learning, we would be in a connected model when there is a high community spread of COVID-19. That is where we are today, and our model would support opening the school year in a connected model.” 

When county districts first released their preliminary back-to-school plans July 20, Mehlville was one of the few districts that said it would wait and see how coronavirus cases continued to trend. The district proposed three possible scenarios depending on the situation in the coming weeks: an entirely in-person scenario, a blended option of both in-person and virtual learning and an entirely virtual model. 

At the urging of health officials, most St. Louis County schools have already announced in the last week that they will begin the year online. Kirkwood was the first in the county to do so, while the Affton School District was the first in South County. Hancock Place School District, which had initially said that it would offer the option of either five days a week in-person or online learning to families, said Tuesday that the district would instead begin the year 100-percent remote. Bayless followed and its school board will also decide Wednesday night.

“The recommendation from county health is to start with a connected model, the recommendation of the Return to School Committee is to start the year in a connected model,” said Gaines. “The recommendation of the administration is in line with that but also provides the ability to provide in-person support on an appointment basis.” 

The district will release further information Thursday on what a virtual start to the school year look like. In addition to the virtual start, the board also voted to adopt a 2020-2021 school year connected calendar and 2020-2021 school year blended calendar that would make changes to the half days for professional development and to parent-teacher conferences. Both the connected and blended models embedded professional development into the schedule and allow for parent-teacher conferences. 

“We can only make kids as safe as possible and give them the best instruction we can and keep them safe,” said board member Larry Felton. 

Most districts released initial plans July 20 and have since reversed course, although some districts like Lindbergh and Rockwood are still saying they will offer a blended in-person/virtual option for students, with two days face-to-face learning and three days virtual.