Lindbergh examines how to return to class


Photo by Erin Achenbach

Students walk to class during the passing period at Lindbergh High School Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

No one really knows what school will look like this fall in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but a 61-member task force in Lindbergh Schools is trying to figure it out.

The Lindbergh Reopening Task Force began meeting weekly by videoconference May 27 to look over survey data from parents and come up with a plan for reopening that will be shared with the public in mid-July.

Its members were selected by school principals and include teachers and parents from various disciplines and grade levels.

The group consists of 13 parents, nine teachers, seven students, 15 instructional leaders, 14 non-teaching staff and leaders and three Board of Education members.

With so many disparate members, the task force is focused on examining survey data from more than 5,000 survey takers before the mid-July target date for sharing the plans, said Chief Academic Officer Tara Sparks, who gave an update to the board on the process at a June 9 workshop.

“I know there’s a lot of fear for parents when they’re wondering what’s going to happen in August,” Sparks said.

But even ideas that have traction are not yet finalized because “a lot of things are continuing to evolve,” Sparks added.

One of the top concerns of parents is that children actually be physically in school.

That is also a priority for superintendents nationwide, Superintendent Tony Lake said: “The shift has really been, even where we were probably 7-10 days ago has really shifted to how can we make this work to have kids in buildings safely the best way we can.”

One area the task force is examining is how to potentially create smaller classroom sizes out of existing space so that students have fewer students to interact with or spread the virus to.

The district is using its architect on retainer, Perkins + Will, to develop alternate layouts for buildings that could use smaller class sizes to make social distancing easier.

“No final decisions are made, but we’re definitely trending in that direction with the idea that if you’re not comfortable with this, here’s this virtual option,” Lake added.

And the virtual option offered will be much more formal than it was when the district was thrust into that at the end of the year, he noted.

“It’s about choice for our families, not being as rigid, being agile and being able to pivot the best we can,” Lake said. “We have some great thinkers in this group and they’re doing some really great things, and I think we’re going to be able to provide our families comfort… How can we do as normal as we possibly can do?”

In the survey data, parents say they “overwhelmingly” want children in school, “so that is driving a lot of our conversation and a lot of our discussions that we’re having,” Sparks said.

To that end, parents responded to various scenarios about how likely they would be to send their child to school under either strict social distancing, or “do your best.” The difference between those two options, was less than a percentage point.

“If you can get those class sizes smaller and you can do your best to social distance… I’m also a realist and I live in reality, and when you start thinking about social distancing with kindergarteners, what does that look like — do they really understand I can’t just go hug my friend?” Lake said.

The task force is releasing weekly updates, which generalize ideas discussed.

“Throughout this process, we want to assure our families and staff of this: The School Reopening Task Force will work diligently to develop a plan that provides all Lindbergh families with choice, flexibility and options, and ensure that all students and staff have a safe, healthy learning environment,” Chief Communications Officer Beth Johnston wrote in the committee’s first weekly update.

The district declined The Call’s request to attend the committee’s videoconferenced meetings, stating that the committee was convened by Lake, not the board, and so was not open to the public as other district committees are.

Most of the work of the committee is done in subgroups whose work would not be visible during the main meeting, Johnston added.

“Every conversation in our breakout rooms might look a little different,” Sparks said.

At one weekly meeting, the task force heard a presentation on children and COVID-19 from committee member Dr. Rachel Charney, a Lindbergh parent who is a professor of pediatric emergency medicine for St. Louis University and the medical director of disaster preparedness for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

The district is encouraging anyone with a question for any of the subcommittees — teaching and learning, facilities, health and safety, transportation, meals, child care, human relations and communications — to send feedback through an online form.

Parents and teachers were polled on their thoughts regarding three separate scenarios, with students attending school in person:

Elementary every day, secondary one of three days; alternating days in person or virtual; alternating weeks in person or virtual, which would allow students to alternate time in the buildings; elementary half days and secondary blended; virtual or full day.

The most unpopular option by far was elementary half days, Sparks said.

“Universally people said no, that is not going to work for our families, that is too cumbersome,” Sparks said of the survey data on that idea.

For the secondary blended option, middle and high-school students could decide which classes they need to take in person and which could be taken virtually.

The secondary concept of three days in person and elementary half-day options were crossed out based on feedback.

The committee is also working on backup plans because even if school starts one way in August, flu season is right around the corner and things could change quickly.

Any plan developed has to be “cohesive” and “sustainable,” Sparks noted.

“We need to know what do we when, what do we do if,” she said. “This year it came at us fast and furious.”

At the June 10 meeting, the district said that the task force narrowed its choices among the above options to two possibilities: full-time, in person instruction, or a high-quality virtual learning experience for families who need that option.

Parents also reported in the survey that they would have difficulty getting children to school if bus transportation was not available, Sparks said. Of the families who responded, roughly 4 percent need before school care, 9 percent need after school and 7.4 percent need both. Of that group, 70 percent said finding other options would be “extremely or very difficult.”