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Jennings closes schools in expectation of grand jury decision

Jennings closes schools in expectation of grand jury decision

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UPDATED to include school still planned for Ferguson-Florissant, Riverview Gardens and Hazelwood schools, and information on the fliers adults were handing out to students. 

The Jennings School District will not hold school Monday and Tuesday in expectation that a grand jury will announce its decision this weekend on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson.

Parents in the Jennings district, which includes the eastern edge of Ferguson, will receive automated calls this afternoon notifying them that schools will be closed, Superintendent Tiffany Anderson said.

"With the heightened anxiety and activity, we thought it would be better for students and staff to extend the holiday at this point," she said.

The decision to close schools was not based on any notification from law enforcement that an announcement is imminent, Anderson went on to say. Once the decision becomes public, many are bracing for the possibility of volatile protests, which have been largely peaceful since Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown three months ago.

School officials aren't concerned about student safety inside the buildings, but on streets near some of them. Anderson wanted to give parents as much time as possible to figure out child-care arrangements for next week.

School district representatives from several north St. Louis County districts said closing school for two days was among the options discussed at a recent meeting with law enforcement officials. Closure would keep buses and excess traffic off streets in the event of unrest.

Children in Jennings don't have bus service. Most of them walk, making Anderson even more concerned for their safety.

On Thursday, Anderson said a group of adults wearing masks and claiming to be from Chicago were passing out fliers to students as they walked home along Cozens Avenue. The street has an elementary school, the junior high and high school.

The fliers were "encouraging students to be disruptive and encouraging them to think of police as pigs," Anderson said. "That was disturbing."

Anderson notified other school districts in north St. Louis County about the fliers. A scanned copy urges people "to pour into the streets immediately" after the announcement comes. It also says "Students should walk out of school when they hear another murdering pig has gone free."

Jennings is the first of what could be several school districts to cancel school, giving students and staff a week-long Thanksgiving break. Children who live in Ferguson and attend public school go to one of four districts — Jennings, Hazelwood, Riverview Gardens, or Ferguson-Florissant. 

"At the present time, we have not made a similar decision," said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for Ferguson-Florissant schools. "The problem right now is, we don't even know an announcement is coming."

Riverview Gardens and Hazelwood schools still plan to be in session on Monday, district representatives said. 

The uncertainty of when the announcement will finally be announced has increased anxieties among children throughout the region, but particularly in schools those nearest the unrest. 

"For adults, there's as great — if not greater — anxiety," Anderson said. "They're thinking a lot about how to support kids, how to make sure everything is in place" for the grand jury decision.

Even with no school, meals will be provided to children in need on Monday and Tuesday from 8 to 9 a.m., and lunch from noon to 1 p.m. at Jennings High School and Fairview Elementary School.

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Elisa Crouch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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