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Schools think they'll get advance notice of grand jury decision

Schools think they'll get advance notice of grand jury decision

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Preparations have been under way for weeks at area schools as they await a decision from the grand jury reviewing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Administrators say emergency plans are in place to keep students safe should unrest erupt in the days following the announcement of a decision from a St. Louis County grand jury. They’ve asked parents and guardians to update their contact information. They’ve met with police and reviewed alternative bus routes should roads be closed.

Last month, several superintendents and education officials asked Prosecutor Robert McCulloch that any decision be announced on a Sunday. A spokesman for McCulloch declined to comment Friday on advance notice for schools.

Don Senti, executive director of EducationPlus, an organization of school districts in the region, said he thought after conversations with other officials that schools would get advance notice.

“We think they’ll give us notice,” Senti said. “But how much, who knows?”

It could be as much as 24 hours before an announcement, according to a letter sent by Hazelwood Superintendent Grayling Tobias to his district.

“The St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office informed school districts that if the grand jury’s decision is made on a weekend, school superintendents will be notified 24 hours prior to the information being released to the media,” Tobias said in the letter. “If a decision is reached during the week, school districts will be given three hours of advance notice. The three-hour window will allow us enough time to transport students home safely.”

On Friday, Clayton Superintendent Sharmon Wilkinson sent parents a note about plans, as well as advice for answering children’s questions about civil unrest, saying their emotional security also was important.

And a coalition of 11 churches in north St. Louis County said Friday that they had partnered with the Ferguson-Florissant and Riverview Gardens school districts, pledging to provide support to children and families if needed after the grand jury announcement.

The churches have agreed to offer educational and counseling support to children and families if schools are closed. In turn, the school districts will provide food and volunteers to the churches.

“Our hope is that reaction to the grand jury’s findings will be peaceful and will not disrupt the lives and education of our students, families and community,” said F. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson. Still, it’s important to be prepared, he said.

The school districts will provide breakfast and lunch to the church sites through their food service departments. The Ferguson-Florissant School District expects to provide more than 1,400 meals a day across seven church sites. The Riverview Gardens School District expects to provide more than 500 meals a day at three churches within its attendance area.

In Clayton, a St. Louis County grand jury has been hearing evidence since August in the Ferguson case. Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown in a confrontation on Aug. 9. The death of Brown, 18, triggered rioting and protests, prompting schools to cancel. Earlier this week, McCulloch said it would probably be mid- to late November when the grand jury announced a decision.

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Jessica Bock is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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