Mehlville K-2 students will move from all-virtual to in-person school

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An Oakville Elementary student the first day of school.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The Mehlville School District is bringing back preschool and kindergarten through second-grade students for in-person learning in classrooms beginning Tuesday, Sept. 22, the district announced Thursday. The move follows St. Louis County’s switch Wednesday to recommend K-2 students resume classes in person following data from the first two weeks of school.

Mehlville students in preschool through second grade will return to the classroom under the district’s “Plan B” hybrid/blended learning with staggered attendance, 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 will come together for one day a week of live virtual instruction with the teacher.

Students have not attended classes in person at Mehlville schools since spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board of Education voted to start all-virtual for the first day of school Aug. 25, with no set time frame to switch.

Most St. Louis County districts started the school year all-virtual, but Lindbergh Schools began with K-3 in person. Lindbergh’s ZIP codes, however, have seen lower case trends over the last two months than Mehlville, which has had three of its four ZIP codes singled out as regional coronavirus hotspots by the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force.

According to the plan released by Mehlville, kindergarten through second-grade students with last names beginning A-K will attend classes at their elementary schools on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning Sept. 22. Students with last names beginning L-Z will attend their respective schools on Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning Sept. 23. All students will participate in live virtual instruction with a teacher on Mondays.

Preschool students will attend at their regularly scheduled times on their regularly scheduled days, Mondays through Thursdays.

​Families with preschool through second-grade students who opted for Mehlville@Home, the district’s 100-percent virtual academy, will remain in online instruction through the end of the first semester.

Students returning to the classroom will have to wear masks while on the bus or at school, but mask breaks will be allowed when it is “appropriate and safe“ to do so, the district said. Masks are encouraged for preschool students but will not be required.

All families will be asked to review the district’s online COVID-19 symptom checker and check their students for symptoms prior to sending them to school for the day. Students with symptoms should be kept home.

​In a video released by the district, Superintendent Chris Gaines said that the COVID-19 data for the area was trending downward overall and that, coupled with the new recommendation from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, gave the district confidence opening the doors to preschool through second graders.

“In a report from the county, they indicated that the positivity rate among kids 5 to 9 was 6 percent, so that’s good at a nicer, lower point,” said Gaines.

County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday that the health department is modifying its recommendation so that schools could consider the process of transitioning into in-person education for elementary school students.

​“St. Louis County is not mandating that they do this, but we are pointing out that the data is currently supporting an option for in-person learning for these younger students,” said Page. ​“School district leaders have significant factors to consider and plan for if and when they return to elementary education.”

​Gaines said that third grade through 12th would remain in the district’s all virtual “Plan C: Connected” model for the time being, until data for the middle school and high-school age groups turns more favorable.

​According to county data, 90 percent of positive cases from schools in the past two weeks have involved middle and high-school students, with the rate of new cases for high-school students nearly 5 times the rate of younger students. Additionally, the positivity rate of the 15-19 age group is 20 percent.

​“In the meantime I hope everyone continues to wear their masks, make sure that you’re social distancing, avoiding the large gatherings and limit physical contact with others,” said Gaines. “We’re hoping if everyone continues to follow this guidance, we’ll be able to get more and more students back to school over the coming weeks.”

​When the district first opted to start the semester 100-percent virtual in August, Gaines had emphasized that getting students back in the classroom depended on the community taking the proper steps to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, including wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

​The district will release further information about preschool through second grade’s return to the classroom in the coming week, including more information about on-campus safety protocols. Check back to www.callnewspapers.com for the latest information.

See photos from Mehlville’s first day of school for 2020: