Two school districts in north St. Louis County have sent packets of additional homework with students in case a grand jury decision triggers volatile protests and school cancellations.
Ferguson-Florissant and Riverview Gardens schools gave students the packets late last week in advance of the grand jury announcement on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting of Michael Brown. An announcement is expected any day now. The two districts, plus the Hazelwood and Jennings school systems, include parts of Ferguson, where the killing has led to three months of protests.
“We’re thinking about all of the ways we can be responsive to our student, families and staff,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for Ferguson-Florissant schools. “That was something we felt was yet another important preparation for our students so that learning could continue no matter what.”
Districts throughout the region have requested advance notice before the grand jury announces its decision. They have also requested that the announcement be made on a weekend.
Schools closest to the turmoil have prepared contingency plans for safety, buses and student meals in the event the decision on whether to indict triggers unrest that makes it difficult or dangerous to get students to and from schools.
Children in the Riverview Gardens district, which includes the apartment complex where Brown was shot, will receive the homework packets every Friday through the end of November.
“If conditions warrant a school closure, as was done on August 18th and 19th of this year, we want to make sure our scholars are working on academic skills,” Superintendent Scott Spurgeon wrote in a letter to teachers last week.
The packets vary from school to school.
Vogt Elementary students in Ferguson-Florissant, for example, have instructions to complete two assignments each day school is not in session. All assignments will be collected when school resumes, a letter from teachers says.
Ferguson-Florissant delayed the start of its school year by six days in August due to protests near some schools.
Jennings school officials are holding off on the homework assignments, despite its proximity. Two of its elementary schools, Woodland and Hanrahan, are a few blocks east of the Target parking lot that served as the command center for law enforcement in August. Students in the district missed two days when clashes between protesters and police were most volatile.
Jennings school officials will be monitoring the streets closely following the announcement.
“We’re confident it’s going to be peaceful, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels about it,” said Phillip Boyd, an assistant superintendent. He said if nearby protests heat up, administrators will be driving the neighborhoods before dawn to make sure it’s safe for children to walk. Jennings does not provide bus transportation.
Other districts affected by protests — Hazelwood, Clayton and St. Louis Public Schools — said they’ll also be monitoring the situation closely but have not sent home extra homework.