VIDEO: All Missouri schools will stay closed through end of school year

Mehlville+School+District+employees%2C+including+Superintendent+Chris+Gaines%2C+seen+above+March+23%2C+are+handing+out+grab-and-go+meals+of+breakfast+and+lunch+to+all+children+living+in+the+Mehlville+School+District+during+the+extended+closure.

Mehlville School District employees, including Superintendent Chris Gaines, seen above March 23, are handing out grab-and-go meals of breakfast and lunch to all children living in the Mehlville School District during the extended closure.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The governor announced Thursday that students in Missouri will not return to school this year, but St. Louis area schools had already made that decision.

In a Facebook post, Gov. Mike Parson said, “We are ordering all Missouri public and charter schools to remain closed through the remainder of the academic year with the exceptions of nutrition services and child care that are outlined in our recent health order. This recommendation was made by working together with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and several school superintendents from across the state — from both urban and rural districts.”

But school is not out for the summer yet, the governor added.

“Schools should continue remote learning for their students until the end date previously set on their academic calendars,” he posted.

The news comes as the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,539 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 77 deaths from the virus on Thursday. The number of deaths represents a steep increase from the 58 reported Wednesday. State data shows that all but seven of those Missourians were age 60 or older.

Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, called the move “a necessary step to protect the health and safety of our students, teachers, staff and communities.”

Randol added that “even though traditional classes will not resume this school year, education of our students will continue for the remainder of the year. The buildings may be closed, but quality education continues.”

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner Margie Vandeven thanked teachers and families for adapting.

“We cannot applaud these educators enough, as well as our families at home, for stepping up to the plate to make learning a possibility amid this new normal,” Vandeven said in Thursday’s news conference. 

Superintendents from South County’s school districts — Mehlville School District, Lindbergh Schools, Affton School District, Hancock Place School District and Bayless School District — reacted to the news with sadness and determination to get through an unprecedented time in history. 

“This is a terribly difficult time and throughout my career in education we’ve never been faced with making these types of decisions,” Hancock Superintendent Kevin Carl said in a YouTube video.

Private schools will make the same decision as public schools. The Archdiocese of St. Louis posted to Twitter Thursday that remote learning will continue for the rest of its year. Dioceses across the state also made the same call

Hancock Place School District

The last day of school for area districts varies. In Lindbergh Schools and Bayless, remote learning will continue through May 21. In the Mehlville School District, it will continue through May 27. Hancock Place School District has scheduled its last day for May 28.

At the time of the governor’s decision, all St. Louis area school districts had already collectively made the decision to close through the end of the school year, Lindbergh Superintendent Tony Lake said in an email to parents.

This collective, areawide decision follows recommendations from local health departments and was made in collaboration with government officials. We will continue to follow their guidance as we make decisions with thoughtful consideration for the health of students, families and staff in our community,” Lake wrote in the email.

In a message to parents of the Mehlville School District, Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines said, “This is neither a decision we take lightly nor a decision that was easily made. However, we will always put student and staff health and safety first… While our buildings will remain closed, we will continue to do all we can to support remote learning and provide nutritious meals for kids. Please encourage your children to keep in touch with their teachers and participate in remote learning.”

He concluded, “This is a school year none of us will soon forget. I hope it will be remembered as a time when our community and our nation stood strong together to care for and protect one another.”

Mehlville School District, YouTube

In a video posted to the district’s YouTube page and sent to parents, Gaines said, “Now that means our buildings are closed and that means our playgrounds are closed — that doesn’t mean learning’s going to stop. We’re going to continue to provide learning opportunities through what was going to be the end of our school year. Our teachers are going to continue to reach out to kids and we’re going to try to move forward the best we can.”

Affton Superintendent Travis Bracht also posted a video message to the Affton School District community on Facebook.

“I’m very proud of the efforts I’ve seen thus far, and I think it will be important for us to support each other going forward,” Bracht said, adding that although he hated for schools to close for the rest of the year, the decision “does seem appropriate.”

“I know this is not what anybody wants to hear,” Bracht said. “I can’t wait to see all of you back in person.”

Carl said that he is conscious about how the decision to close schools will affect graduating seniors, who will miss out on the fun of the last months of their senior year and all the festivities that normally go with that. Even the start of school in August is an unknown at this point, he noted.

“I’m very disappointed not knowing what we’re going to be doing in terms of graduation in the future, but I will say that our commitment will be to do whatever we can to ensure that a graduation is held, even if that means that it’s a little bit later than normal,” Carl said. “We hope that we will be in a situation where we can once again gather together and celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors.”

As for prom, eighth-grade graduation and other end-of-year events, Carl said it’s unclear whether those will be able to be held at a later date.

As the time out of school gets extended, most South County school districts will be making changes in the way they handle grab-and-go meals. Affton already made the move this week to offer the meals for three days only, when students can pick up double meals. Lindbergh will now also hold food pickup on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while Mehlville will hold the drive-thru events Monday and Thursday. Food for multiple days will be handed out, which will minimize any risks for food service workers and for the public, the districts said.

Affton School District on Facebook

Schools create hotlines to help remotely

Lindbergh Schools has established a helpline that is monitored daily to respond to family needs. Please call 314-729-2448, or email covidhelp@lindberghschools.ws, and a member of the staff will respond to you within 24 hours (8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday). You can also visit the district’s COVID-19 website for all district updates and information.

Students and parents can reach the Affton Schools COVID-19 Helpline at 314-633-5911.

Hancock Place also has a hotline to help students, with academic issues but also other issues, Carl said. The hotline can be reached at 314-544-1300 ext. 219, or email Covidhelp@hancock.k12.mo.us.

Surveys about remote-learning experience

Affton will open a ThoughtExchange online survey to parents Friday, and will process the results next week to see how things are going and how they can improve.

Other South County districts are doing the same with their own surveys.

“As we continue virtual learning in Lindbergh for the foreseeable future, it’s essential that we work together with our families to find the right balance of home and school life,” Lake said in the email.

The district is inviting families to complete a short survey about your student’s virtual learning experience to date, in order to help Lindbergh support learning in the home looking ahead toward the end of this school year. Fill out one survey for each child in your household who attends Lindbergh Schools. This survey will remain open through Tuesday, April 14.

In Mehlville, officials said that a survey will open next week to gather thoughts on the learning experience so far.

“I know you have questions,” Gaines wrote. “Some of those questions are addressed in our frequently asked questions. For some questions, we don’t yet have answers. Next week, we will be asking you to share your top questions with us via a ThoughtExchange. Identifying and prioritizing the big questions you still have will help us prioritize our communication and planning efforts.”

See Gaines’ message to the community in a YouTube video below:

Claire Colby of the Missouri News Network contributed to this report.