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St. Louis schools pass out meals, move to online learning during shutdown

St. Louis schools pass out meals, move to online learning during shutdown

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ST. LOUIS — Students picked up homework packets, laptops and personal belongings Monday after nearly all schools in the region announced they would shutter until at least April 6.

In some districts that are on spring break this week, students were briefly allowed inside the buildings. School staff also started handing out free breakfast and lunch, including a drive-through option in Wentzville. Elementary students in Mascoutah will visit their schools Tuesday to pick up laptops and work packets.

The unprecedented shutdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus has schools scrambling to come up with plans for providing instruction and support services during the extended break.

“We respect that your family may have many stressors right now, and it is our hope that the activities we provide will offer an opportunity for students to keep learning and keep their brains active but not overwhelmed,” Craig Fiegel, Mascoutah superintendent, wrote in a letter to parents.

Unlike many colleges, which already offer online courses, teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade are not prepared for e-learning beyond one to three snow days at a time, administrators said.

The ACT and SAT college entrance exams have been canceled in March, April and May, according to the national boards that administer the exams.

School closures also put the annual state standardized tests at risk. In Missouri, schools must test before May 22, although waivers may be granted if closures are extended. State funding for schools will not be suspended during the break, and this year’s student attendance will not count toward future performance scores, according to a memo sent Friday from Margie Vandeven, Missouri’s commissioner of education.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said closing schools is the right decision, but stressed that support services for low-income and disabled students must still be in place.

“Modern public schools are centers of community, not just places of instruction,” Weingarten said in a statement.

Counselors, nurses and social workers in East St. Louis schools set up a text hotline Monday for students.

Businesses and nonprofit groups also have offered to help schools meet students’ needs. Charter Communications is offering free broadband internet access for two months to families with children in kindergarten through college. The nonprofit StepUp is organizing a donation drive for personal items and cleaning supplies for families.

Education officials have applied for waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing free meals to students who qualify, according to Vandeven.

Most districts across the region have already announced plans to provide to-go meals, with assistance from Operation Food Search and other nonprofit organizations. Some schools, including Lift for Life charter school in St. Louis and Cahokia schools said they will deliver food to students at bus stops.

This week, children can receive free meals at Peabody Elementary in south St. Louis. More than 20 schools in St. Louis city will start distributing meals to students next week.

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