It was great to see our students and staff back in all of our buildings last week as we experienced a successful start to the new year. There are many things to look forward to as we begin this semester, and I will have more communication to you about those items over the next several weeks. One significant notification from last week was the announcement of extending the Hybrid Learning Format at the Middle School and High School until further notice. Remaining in this format will allow students and staff to maintain consistency in health/safety protocols, schedules, and expectations. Due to the difficulties in creating consistent cohorts at the secondary level, bringing all students back too soon could unnecessarily place the district in the position of increased quarantine numbers. It is our goal to return to full seated instruction as soon as data supports that the health and safety risks of students and staff can be minimized. This decision was made after consultation with the Phelps-Maries County Health Department and the St. James R-I leadership team. The district will provide a week’s notice prior to the all-student 6-12 return to school.
Thank you upfront for your continued diligence as we begin the second half of this school year. While there is cautious optimism for a vastly improved spring in terms of our virus protocols, we still need everyone’s help. Adherence to best practices in combating the spread of the virus needs to be at the top of our minds. Physical distancing, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, staying home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, and following isolation or quarantine directions from the Phelps-Maries County Health Department are commitments we need to continue to make. Very importantly, if your child is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please keep her or him home from school. I know of several instances from the first semester where parents were proactive in keeping children home from school when exhibiting a symptom consistent with COVID-19. By keeping those students home, far fewer students had to quarantine for potential exposure to positive cases. Exercising good judgment in the home and keeping a child home from school when symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are present is a very effective mitigation strategy. Thank you in advance for this continued effort.
The Phelps-Maries County Health Department reported a small uptick both locally and at the statewide level last week which could be the indication of an approaching surge, but nothing definitive. Hospital capacity has stabilized and the health department is cautiously optimistic that public awareness has expanded enough to cause a significant change in mitigation behaviors.
On the vaccination front, Missouri is currently working through the first stage of the vaccination plan, Phase 1A. This phase includes patient care healthcare providers and long term care facilities. In our area, both Phelps Health and Your Community Health Center have been approved as COVID-19 vaccinators. All school nurses meet the phase 1A criteria and are presently eligible for vaccination. I am happy to report that our school nurses have already received their first of two shots. Currently all other school staff are slated to be vaccinated in the next Phase 1B. The health department has indicated that we are on schedule to move into Phase 1B in early February.
Like the first semester, there is uncertainty about how this semester will unfold. But also like the first semester, we will be ready to adjust when needed to meet any challenge or opportunity. Our guiding principles remain strong. Plan and adjust. Patience and grace. These are the characteristics we embraced in the first semester, and will continue to embrace as we begin the second.
I am very excited about what the future holds for our district and students. Thank you for entrusting your children to the St. James R-I School District. #stjtigerpride