Most K through 12 students in Missouri are heading back to class in late August this year. Today, in late July would usually be a time of excitement, but instead, it's a time of uncertainty for teachers and school administrators.
This post is the second post in our two-part series on returning to school as COVID-19 spreads like wildfire. Last week, you learned what many Missouri universities are doing to keep students safe. Many Missouri universities are large institutions with vast resources and expertise. The same is not true for most K through 12 school districts in the state.
Before the pandemic, school districts' budgets were tight. In conversations with teachers across the state, we're learning they're concerned about how their districts are going to fight the spread of the virus without extra resources. They're also worried Missouri teachers will have to foot the bill.
“Between classes cleaning will likely fall to the teachers. Teachers have four minutes to wrap up the class, prep for the next class, and clean. Heaven forbid a teacher has to use the restroom between classes. This was almost impossible before and will be even more so now.”Stacy Foree, Teacher in Oak Grove R-6 School District
“Between classes cleaning will likely fall to the teachers. Teachers have four minutes to wrap up the class, prep for the next class, and clean. Heaven forbid a teacher has to use the restroom between classes. This was almost impossible before and will be even more so now.” Said Oak Grove R-6 school district Spanish teacher, Stacy Foree.
"Between classes, cleaning will likely fall to the teachers. Teachers have four minutes to wrap up the class, prep for the next class, and clean. Heaven forbid a teacher has to use the restroom between classes. This was almost impossible before and will be even more so now." Said Oak Grove R-6 school district Spanish teacher, Stacy Foree.
Foree explains her school district (Oak Grove R-6) has a plan to head back to class. "The Oak Grove R-6 School District has put out a plan for the fall that includes a choice of in-person or online. A hybrid model was not considered according to leadership." But other school districts in Missouri don't yet have a plan and are waiting for more guidance from the state. There is some evidence a hybrid model may lead to higher academic achievement for some students.
Scott Hopke is a journalism teacher in the Independence School District. The KC metro school district is one of the biggest in the state, and Hopke says its plans are in a state of flux. "I Don't really know enough about what the plan is. We have an outline, but we don't have a lot of details. I feel like there's been a failure of leadership at higher levels. There are some loose guidelines and loose recommendations, and it's not helpful. My district is trying to find their way on their own."
“What’s right for the Independence School District is not going to be right for the schools in Linn, Missouri where I grew up.”Scott Hopke, Teacher in the Independence School District
Hopke is concerned about the state's recommendations for reopening schools. "What's right for the Independence School District is not going to be right for the schools in Linn, Missouri, where I grew up."
Right now, guidance from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services does not differentiate between urban, suburban, and rural schools for its recommendations. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published different recommendations for schools, depending on the community spread of COVID-19.
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For areas with no community spread, the CDC urges schools to reinforce hygiene practices like washing hands more thorough cleaning and disinfecting school buildings. The CDC advises schools in areas with no community spread to consider postponing all non-essential gatherings and events. Students and teachers who become ill should be required to stay home according to CDC recommendations.
In areas with moderate COVID-19 community spread, the CDC urges schools to first coordinate with local health departments and officials. Schools should implement social distancing strategies for teachers and students. Social distancing strategies include dividing students into small cohorts and keeping and keeping them in the same cohorts throughout the school day. The CDC also urges schools to consider the needs of students with family members at home regarded as high risk for COVID-19 complications.
For areas with high COVID-19 transmission, the CDC recommends that schools consider extended school dismissals and implement more rigorous social distancing practices to keep student, teachers, and their families safe.
For families worried about their children acquiring and spreading COVID-19, there's some evidence to suggest there's not much to worry about as far as the kids are concerned. Researchers used contract tracing data to find adults are more likely to acquire COVID-19 from other adults.
For children with mental illness or special needs, no school means no treatment. One study found mental and developmental conditions worsened for children who could not attend school because of the pandemic. School is also crucial for students who don't have access to nutritious meals at home.
One teacher in a rural Missouri school district wishes to remain anonymous. She's frustrated with her district and state education leaders and says that social distancing in her school will be next to impossible. "
“There weren't any masks to be found on anyone,”Teacher from rural Central Missouri School District
Both Missouri and CDC guidelines urge students and teachers to wear a mask. Wearing a mask is the best way to reduce transmission of COVID-19. "There weren't any masks to be found on anyone," The Central Missouri rural teacher said. "I was able to spend the last four weeks (teaching over the summer.) (Administrators) tried their best to have the students social distance, but elementary and middle school students aren't of the social distancing mindset."
"Two hundred students were spread between 2 buildings to allow more distance, but when you have limited teachers, there's only so much you can spread out. I had 21 in my middle school class for the first session. Although I did my best to spread them out, there just wasn't enough space in the classroom. I will have between 22 and 25 students in my second-grade classroom this year, which doesn't allow for social distancing at all. The max capacity my classroom was designed for is 20."
The Missouri guidelines ask schools to screen students for COVID-19 as they come into school every day. The guidelines state that teachers and administrators should inspect children as they arrive for any apparent signs of distress. Guidelines say temperature checks at the door may delay students from entering and cause a bottleneck.
Every teacher we talked to says they need more guidance from state education and public health entities. "I don't feel like the state guidelines are adequate." The rural schoolteacher told us. "Don't get me wrong; I do believe that elementary-age students, especially, learn better in the classroom with the teacher present. I understand the push to get students back to school so that parents can return to work. I don't know that there is a perfect answer to what is going on right now."
Independence teacher, Scott Hopke is urging his school district to take a novel approach to increase social distancing. "There's a study showing K through 5 (5th grade) students have been shown to do much better in the classroom setting, middle school and high school students show virtually no difference in performance distance learning versus in classroom learning. Wouldn't it be an interesting concept to have middle school and high school students continue distance learning and have the K-5 students return to in classroom learning using all of the district teachers in all the district buildings?"