One month before the first day of school, thousands of students in Kirkwood and St. Louis learned they will be staying home.
Kirkwood is the sixth school district in St. Louis County to move to an all-virtual start to the 2020-2021 year, following Affton, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and Ritenour. Most other districts in the region released back-to-school plans on July 20, offering at least two days of in-person classes along with all-virtual options.
David Ulrich, who started one month ago as Kirkwood superintendent, said rising coronavirus rates led to his recommendation to offer classes online through at least the first nine-week quarter. The Kirkwood School Board voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve the plan.
“We need 28 days of declining rates. We are within that window and that trend is not going in the right direction,” Ulrich said during the videoconference meeting.
St. Louis County has reported the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any county in the state. On Tuesday, cases reached 11,595 and deaths totaled 643.
Ulrich sent a letter to parents Monday saying the district had to pivot to all-virtual classes because of a rollback of preventive measures in the county. County Executive Sam Page said Monday that businesses would be limited to 25% and gatherings capped at 50 or fewer people.
“For us to engage in any face-to-face learning, based on the 25% capacity restriction, it would be impossible to deliver a rigorous curriculum to our students,” Ulrich wrote.
The capacity and crowd limits do not apply to schools nor day care centers, although Page has encouraged parents to choose an all-virtual option when available.
At the board meeting Tuesday, Ulrich said he was unaware that schools were exempt from the capacity limits, but that was not the only factor in his decision.
Under Kirkwood’s plan, certain students may be able to attend school in person, including the children of health care workers and those with disabilities or financial hardships. Students in kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade may also have opportunities for small group meetings.
“We believe that we can come up with a way that we will be able to engage very small groups of students and we are working on that right now,” Ulrich said. “Thankfully, we have many families that are blessed to be able to manage this, but we know there is a percentage of our families that this will be a hardship.”
Students will be taught virtually by teachers at their assigned schools with hopes of reopening buildings for the start of the second quarter in October. Off-hours virtual instruction may be available to accommodate working parents’ schedules, Ulrich said.
At least four districts in the Metro East — Cahokia, East St. Louis, Granite City and Waterloo — have also announced an all-virtual start to the school year.
The fall semester starts Aug. 24 in most St. Louis area districts.
But St. Louis Public Schools will start Aug. 31 with mostly online classes if a plan by Superintendent Kelvin Adams is approved. There will be 20 schools open as “instructional support centers” for the 35% of students who requested an in-person option. Those students will receive virtual instruction with supervision and meals will be provided.