Mehlville School District expands middle school to four days in person


Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines talks to a teacher in a hallway while schools were all-virtual in fall 2020.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Middle school students in the Mehlville School District will soon begin attending class in person four days a week instead of the current rotating two days mixed with virtual learning. 

Superintendent Chris Gaines announced Friday that sixth through eighth grades at the district’s four middle schools will transition to in-person learning four days a week, starting the week of Tuesday, Feb. 16. Mondays will remain at-home learning days, with students attending class in person Tuesdays through Fridays. 

Students in Mehlville@Home, the district’s 100-percent at-home learning program, will remain all-virtual. 

The district said in a video sent in an email to parents that the decision to bring back middle school students was based on continued low COVID-19 positivity rates among students, declining cases in the community and a positive substitute teacher fill rate. 

“From a data standpoint, the regional transmission rate has dipped below 1 for the first time since August, so that’s good news. If we look at the county transmission rate, the county transmission rate has been below 1 for quite awhile now, a few weeks,” said Gaines. “If we look at the county positivity rate, we’ve been below 10 percent for about a week. So all of those are good indicators.” 

Mehlville middle-school students had been attending class in-person in rotating groups two days a week since October, divided into two groups based on their last name. The move to four days of in-person classes will bring both groups of students together for the first time since March 2020. 

The decision to bring back middle school students for more in-person learning comes on the heels of elementary school students returning to five days a week at the start of the second semester Jan. 19. 

High school students, who had been virtual since last March besides a brief two-week window where they attended partial in-person classes in late October and early November, also returned to in-person learning under the hybrid/blended learning model at the beginning of the second semester. 

“We are hoping we can move middle school students to five days a week sometime around spring break if things continue to look good,” said Gaines. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make a move with the high school in the coming weeks as well.” 

One factor that has determined whether or not students can physically attend classes is the district’s substitute fill rate, which determines how many substitute teachers are available to fill absences. The lack of available substitutes was one of the driving reasons high school students returned to 100-percent virtual learning last November, after a brief two weeks of in-person learning. Gaines said that so far, the district’s fill rate has remained above 70 percent. 

All students and staff will continue to be required to wear masks while on campus. Staff and students will also be asked to continue completing a health screening before coming to class in person, to ensure that individuals have not experienced the following symptoms in the last two weeks: 

  • A fever (100.4 or higher)
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion/runny nose
  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of taste/smell
  • Or if they or a close contact have been diagnosed or presumptively diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It seems like I finish all these videos asking people to be sure to wear their masks and wash their hands and to avoid large gatherings and all of those things. … With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, we’re mindful of that but we’re hoping everyone can stay in,” said Gaines. “Individual behaviors are driving the spread of the virus. … I recently got a hat and it had Smokey the Bear on it … it really is up to us, as individuals. We’ve got to wear our masks. We got to make sure we are adhering to those mitigation strategies when we’re out and about. … Please take care and do mitigation strategies.”