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‘Chaos’ continues in St. Louis area schools with staff, student absences because of COVID-19

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Surge of COVID-19 causes teacher and staffing shortages in Edwardsville School District

"Do I prefer seeing my students in person? Absolutely! But I want to do what's best for the health and safety of everyone," said sixth grade math teacher Kyle Lask, who teaches online on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at Liberty Middle School in Edwardsville. Edwardsville School District Public Relations & Communications Coordinator Mary Ann Mitchell said the district made the decision to return to virtual learning because too many teachers and staff were out with COVID-19 or in quarantine from the virus. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

More schools moved online or reinstated mask mandates Friday as a massive wave of COVID-19 continued to disrupt school operations in the St. Louis area.

Masks will be required in the Francis Howell School District at least through Jan. 21, the school board decided Friday in an emergency meeting. There were 696 active cases among students and staff in the St. Charles County district, nearly half of the total reported since August. The board had adopted a mask-optional policy last month.

Mask mandates have also been reinstated in the Kirkwood, Lindbergh and Mehlville school districts.

District leaders have made closure decisions on a building level, including two elementary schools in St. Louis Public Schools, in part because of a state rule limiting virtual learning to 36 hours this year.

Five campuses in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, including Normandy High, moved online Friday because of staffing shortages.

The current spike in cases has caused a “monumental strain” on school districts, Riverview Gardens Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams wrote Thursday in a letter to the community.

“We have witnessed a tremendous rise in health-related absences by teachers, administrators, support staff, scholars, bus drivers and others,” she wrote. “Some of you may be directly affected by COVID-19. All of us have been impacted by its chaos.”

Some parents in the Fort Zumwalt School District said they were frustrated by the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which reverted to zero cases on Friday to remove “positive cases that were diagnosed over winter break and are not associated with our schools,” according to the website. On Thursday, students’ first day back after the break, the number of active cases reported by students and staff reached 209.

Local private schools that have moved online after winter break include Lutheran North High, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School and at least 10 Catholic schools — Sister Thea Bowman in East St. Louis; Assumption in O’Fallon, Missouri; Christ Prince of Peace in Manchester; Marian Middle School, St. Louis University High School and St. Roch in St. Louis; St. Alban Roe in Wildwood; St. Joseph in Cottleville; St. Patrick in Wentzville and Vianney High School in Kirkwood.

On Monday, MICDS will return to in-person classes after two days of online learning for grades nine through 12 because of a high rate of student absences. Of the 78 total cases of COVID-19 among MICDS high school students this year, 67 have been reported since Monday, according to the school’s dashboard.

Across the country, 5,225 schools have been shut down this week because of pandemic-related causes, according to the data tracking site Burbio.

At least six school districts in the Metro East switched to virtual learning this week, including Belleville Township, Brooklyn, Cahokia, Edwardsville, East St. Louis and Granite City. Mascoutah schools closed Thursday and Friday and will make up the two days at the end of the year.

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