Jefferson County children will be out of school longer than originally anticipated.
All the county’s public school district officials announced Monday evening (March 23) that school closures have been extended until at least April 27.
The school closure was extended to coincide with the stay-at-home order for Jefferson County that was announced Monday evening. That order took effect this morning (March 24) and will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, April 23, unless it is rescinded or extended.
Both the school closures and stay-at-home order were put in place to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“Our counties, Health Departments and health-care industries are doing the best they can to handle things, but I think they need the community’s help to adhere to the stay-at-home order,” said Desi Kirchhofer, Northwest R-1 superintendent and president of the Jefferson County Superintendents Association.
“To have school, we would be totally going against the protocols to help stop the spread of any communicable disease. We had to do our part to keep the community safe.”
When school districts originally announced closing because of the coronavirus, most planned to remain closed until at least April 6, with some scheduled to remain closed until at least April 13 because of spring breaks.
“It is important for us to work together through the COVID-19 crisis as a community,” Fox Superintendent Nisha Patel said. “We must all do our part in helping to prevent the spread of this and schools are an integral part of a community.
Fox C-6 alone has over 11,000 students and close to 1,900 employees, and we need to work with our local Health Department to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced on March 19 that school districts will not be required to make up hours lost because of the closure.
DESE also announced it will not implement statewide assessments, like the Missouri Assessment Program test, this year.
Kirchhofer said county school officials would prefer to see students return to school this school year, even if for just a short while.
If school resumes, Northwest’s final day would be May 22, when factoring in making up lost hours for snow days, Kirchhofer said.
“I think if we can recapture three or four weeks to get our students back, then we would,” Kirchhofer said. “Things can change; if the extension goes on more weeks, then the answer will be different.
“A lot of it has to do with students and families needing closure. We want to honor our senior events, like graduations and those type of things. There are a few school districts in the state that have canceled for the year, but we want to provide hope that maybe we can reconnect and give some sense of closure to this school year.”
Even though many day care centers remain open, Kirchhofer said school districts are part of a statewide effort to ensure child care is available during the school closure for parents who are first-responders, health-care employees and other essential roles during the closure.
“The governor (Mike Parson) and DESE commissioner (Margie Vandeven) sent letters to school superintendents saying they will collect data from health-care workers, first-responders and essential staff employees to see how they are having child care provided,” Kirchhofer said. “Once that data is collected, they will push it out and work with local communities and schools to possibly provide day care for first-responders or health-care professionals.
“I don’t know if it will impact all schools, but it will probably have an impact somewhere in the region.”
In the meantime, the Jefferson County Health Department advises families with parents who work as a first-responders, health care employees or other essential positions to look into the Child Care Aware to help them find child care in their community. Those who work in an essential-needs field may get information about the program at www.mo.childcareaware.org, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-866-892-3228.
Kirchhofer also said procedures school districts are using during the pandemic to provide students with learning opportunities while they’re at home could prove beneficial for the 2020-2021 school year and into the future.
He said DESE will study at-home learning models the districts create to eliminate the need to make up snow days in the future.
“For next year, schools could submit an alternative method of instruction for snow days, whether it was online or sending home work,” Kirchhofer said. “So, this is forcing the region in a good way to have plans for snow days. The state will have to approve those plans. We will use this experience to submit a plan to the state for learning on snow days for next year.”