Hancock will bring K-2 students back for five days of in-person school

A+Hancock+student+receives+a+free+Playtime+Pad+tablet+from+the+St.+Louis+County+Library+before+St.+Louis+County%27s+mask+mandate+went+into+effect+for+young+children.+

A Hancock student receives a free Playtime Pad tablet from the St. Louis County Library before St. Louis County’s mask mandate went into effect for young children.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The Hancock Place School District is bringing back kindergarten through second-grade students for five days of in-person learning in classrooms beginning Thursday, Sept. 17, since the district has enough space for social distancing to prevent COVID-19, the airborne virus that has caused nearly all St. Louis County school districts to mostly offer virtual schooling.

The move follows other South County districts, such as the Mehlville School District and Lindbergh Schools, who are gradually returning younger students to the classroom. Other South County districts, like Affton and Bayless, committed to all-virtual for the first quarter of school.

Like those districts, Hancock originally committed to a full first quarter of all-virtual school due to a rise of COVID-19 cases in South County just as school was supposed to start last month, but sent out a survey to elementary parents asking for feedback on returning to the classroom and then announced its decision. The move came days after St. Louis County recommended last week that K-2 students resume classes in person after data from the first two weeks of school showed that the positivity rate among children ages 5 to 9 was 6 percent, far below the 20 percent of teenagers 15 to 19.

The youngest Hancock Elementary students will return to the classroom five days a week for in-person learning, which could make it the only public school in St. Louis County with students returning to a full five days in person. Hancock Jr. High and Hancock High School will stay all-virtual for now. Preschool is not happening either virtual or in-person right now, although Hancock Place Superintendent Kevin Carl said that preschool should be returning in the coming weeks.

“We’re very pleased to be reopening, and we know that there will be some challenges ahead,” Carl said in a video released by the district Friday. “We are so excited to bring our students back.”

All students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks while attending school. Parents will also be asked to do a symptom check of their child every morning before sending them to school.

“Everyone will have to wear a mask, consistent with the orders from the county and to ensure the safety of our students and all employees that are in the building,” said Carl. “If your child is not feeling well for any reason, please keep them home for the safety of your child as well as those that are here as well as our employees.”

When the district first announced its reopening plans for Hancock Elementary, Hancock Jr. High and Hancock High School July 20, it was one of the only districts in St. Louis County to say it would keep a schedule of five days a week of in-person learning, along with a fully virtual option for students to choose. However, as cases and hospitalizations began to rise in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the school year, Hancock opted to begin the semester virtually for all its students, with intentions to re-evaluate at the end of the first quarter in October.

Before making the final decision to start virtually, Carl had said that the district’s small size and declining enrollment gives it an advantage when it came to a face-to-face reopening, because unlike other districts Hancock’s schools have enough space to separate students through social distancing.

For students returning Thursday, social distancing will be “maintained at all times” and classrooms will be set up in small cohorts to ensure that students are spread out in a way that allows teachers to know exactly where students are throughout the day.

“COVID-19 continues to be a challenge throughout our community and throughout our country. We have taken many steps to ensure the safety of your children,” said Carl. “We also need a partnership with you (parents and guardians) to make sure that we can fully provide the safest learning environment during COVID-19.”

Virtual learning will continue to be available for parents who do not want to send their children back into a classroom just yet. Students will not be permitted to go back and forth between in-person and online instruction; once either in-person or online instruction is selected, students must continue for at least one semester in the learning option selected.

“Our goal is to do what is best for students while providing measures that will keep students, staff and their families as safe as possible,” said Carl. “Thank you for remaining flexible and working with us to make the reopening of school a positive experience for students and staff.”

Last week, the Mehlville School District announced that students in preschool through second grade will return for in-person learning beginning Tuesday, Sept. 22 under Mehlville’s blended/hybrid learning plan, which has two groups of students in a class switching between campus on certain days for in-person instruction, while the other half works on virtual activities at home. Both groups come together for one day a week of live virtual instruction with a teacher.

Lindbergh Schools, which has had K-3 students attending class in-person with staggered attendance since the beginning of the school year in August, also announced last week that it would bring back all students in elementary school for in-person/hybrid learning with staggered attendance starting this week.