South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

‘Very, very little’ COVID transmission seen in Lindbergh classrooms

Lindbergh Schools, one of the districts sued in the first suit, implemented masks mandates at various points throughout the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years depending on COVID-19 infection rates in district buildings.

For the last month, all grade levels of Lindbergh Schools have been attending school in person, the first time that had happened since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. But Superintendent Tony Lake is warning that while the district has seen “very, very little” in-class transmission of the virus, school may still have to go all-virtual at some point as the district is overwhelmed by staff quarantines.

Lake highlighted the district’s response to the pandemic as part of his annual Listening and Learning talk, held virtually Nov. 17. Lake’s theme revolved around the district’s commitment to a “growth mindset,” and he noted, “I can’t think of a situation that highlights the need to have a growth mindset, to be flexible, to be able to pivot, than this pandemic. … What we’ve all learned during this pandemic is there is no black and white. Things can change overnight. … Sometimes you feel like you’re drinking out of a fire hose, that things keep coming at us and coming at us.”

Lindbergh started the school year all-virtual for students except K-3, which began with hybrid in person. Since then, all elementary students are back in person five days a week, and middle school and high school students are attending in-person hybrid, which rotates half the students in for two days each per week and the other days virtual.

Overall, the district has seen “very, very little” in-classroom transmission, Lake said. That follows a broader trend among neighboring school districts, nationally and even globally. Students may have contracted the virus in activities outside classrooms or spread COVID to each other, family members or staff members, but the district has not found that they are spreading it to each other in class. Some staff members may have spread the virus by eating lunch together, he noted.

“But even in those cases it has been very minimal,” he said.

Using an analogy from Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease doctor from Washington University, Lake said that preventing COVID is like layers of Swiss cheese. If the district only asked parents and students to submit a health screening at home, “that would have lots of holes in it. That would not be by itself a good mitigation strategy,” said Lake.

But the district also requires masks and keeps students 3 to 6 feet apart for social distancing, and “that’s another layer of Swiss cheese that covers up some holes,” Lake said. In classrooms that don’t have operable windows or where teachers have requested better circulation, the district has brought in portable air purifiers. Other classrooms have Plexiglas barriers where the district feels it’s needed.

“When you start thinking about those mitigation strategies, what we’re hearing is that schools are probably one of the safer places to be because we are requiring all of those things, not all of those things are being required out in our community when people are interacting — well, you can’t go into a restaurant anymore, but when you were going into a restaurant or a social gathering,” Lake said.

At the request of the public, the district started updating its COVID-19 dashboard twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. The spike in quarantines has been shocking at times — 815 students were quarantined the week of Nov. 19 — but that’s because many more students are held in quarantine than test positive, Lake said.

Quarantines have hit the district hard, from the top down to individual classrooms where the district struggles to find enough adults to oversee classes and buildings. Lake himself had to quarantine and virtually attend a Board of Education meeting after a family member was exposed to someone who tested positive. And in a heartbreaking end to an already shortened season, the 5-2 Lindbergh Flyers football team was forced to forfeit the district championship to Fox due to COVID-19.

Quarantines and not the virus itself may be why the district eventually has to pivot to virtual learning at some point, even in the last few weeks of 2020, Lake said.

Although officials examine data daily, including the Harvard Institute for Global Health’s “gating criteria,” or data that could spur a change, there’s no immediate data trigger that would send the district back to all-virtual, Lake noted. Instead, the decision is based on a number of factors.

“We’ve got to be aware of what’s going on in the community, but how is the virus impacting the education and the environment inside our school buildings?” Lake said. “What is our health department telling us in those conversations? What are other doctors that we consult with telling us? What’s the pressure on the system as far as can we staff our building?”

At the start of the school year, Lake warned that the district might go in and out of virtual learning all year long. But in the last several months, the district has instead been challenged with “being able to have enough adults to staff our schools and run our schools,” Lake said.

The Centers for Disease Control last week shortened its recommended 14-day quarantine to 7 to 10 days, which could help the district keep teachers in the classroom, but St. Louis County said it would not change its own requirements because the CDC acknowledged that was risky.

Without that change, Lake said there was a “very real possibility” that the district could switch to all-virtual learning even for the rest of 2020. “We just have to keep monitoring the situation and the data daily.”

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