For the last few weeks, the entire public school community has been working through the many changes and adjustments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have all been learning, cases in Missouri continue to grow exponentially every day. This has caused us to reconsider our original plan of returning to school on April 6. Based on current information regarding the continued spread of this virus and President Trump’s most recent directive to maintain social distancing through April 30, the St. James R-I School District will remain closed through Friday, May 1. It is our plan to reopen school on Monday, May 4. Throughout the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor this situation and evaluate the need to extend this date.
It is helpful to reflect on what has transpired over the past few weeks. It is sometimes hard to believe that in a little under three weeks, we have gone from being excited about the upcoming spring break to a complete shift in the way we live, work, teach, and learn. We have made great strides in a short period of time. It is safe to say we have not seen circumstances like these in our lifetimes. Over the years, St. James R-I School District has endured through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and even a global pandemic. People from around the world, including many Missourians, perished during the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. There were at least 50 million deaths worldwide and approximately 675,000 in the United States. Although more than 12,000 Missourians were lost as a result of this pandemic, from the vantage point of a century, we now recognize that social distancing actions taken by public health authorities throughout Missouri led to demonstrably reduced influenza mortality rates as compared to other states. During this pandemic, Missouri’s schools and universities were substantially impacted by influenza. Each of the state’s three medical schools (the American School of Osteopathy, now known as A.T. Still University; Saint Louis University; and Washington University) graduated their classes early to bolster the understaffed healthcare workforce. Public school systems across the state cancelled classes for weeks at a time, sometimes on multiple occasions, leaving parents to care for restless children in their quarantined homes. The University of Missouri was quarantined twice, and the Mizzou Tigers cancelled the entire 1918 football season.
I provide this information to remind us that we as Missourians have been here before. There is much we can learn from our history. We see that same spirit of cooperation and drive during the current crisis. We are wholly committed to doing everything we can to safeguard the health and safety of our students and staff, as well as the surrounding community, and we are equally committed to providing the best instruction possible. We continue to monitor the recommendations made by our local health agencies as well as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). I have also met with fellow superintendents and district leaders throughout Missouri to share best practices and discuss our next steps as we move forward.
Although we know this extended school closure creates a hardship for many, the safety and health of our students and families must be our highest priority. The continued school closure will minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 throughout our community.
Each individual school building will continue to be in contact with students and parents with updates regarding plans for continued learning activities and meal distribution. Our instructional staff will continue to provide Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) opportunities for our students. AMI will look different depending on the grade level of the student. For students and parents who have been struggling to make sense of this new off-campus learning structure, the district has made many necessary adjustments to improve communication with students and parents. One example of improved communication is that the district will begin disseminating learning opportunities through the Saint James Press starting the week of April 13-17. Learning opportunities in the paper will be organized by grade level at the elementary and middle school and by subject at the high school. These lessons will be designed to encourage the use of basic skills and to promote thinking, regardless of the grade level. If a student needs a challenge, they can simply attempt an activity from a different grade level. The Saint James Press will be delivered to all households on Thursday of each week starting on April 9. The idea is for students to begin work on their assigned activities the following Monday. All families will receive a subscription to the Saint James Press for as long as we use this format.
We will continue to utilize our district website to provide activities for our students. Parents and students will be able to go directly to the district website and district social media platforms to access learning experiences. The latest AMI opportunities can be found under the “Parent” tab or under the “COVID-19 Resources” tab on our website. Additionally, teachers will continue to offer virtual office hours to answer questions regarding student learning opportunities.
Student learning has continued and the educational process is occurring while we strive to support all of our families during this challenging time. Additionally, our school nutrition program is providing lunch and breakfast for all children 18 and under from 10:30-12:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the closure. More information about Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) can be found on our website under the “COVID-19 Resources” tab.
We appreciate your patience and support as our community moves through this situation together. We urge everyone in the St. James R-I family to continue to take care of themselves and each other — practicing responsible social distancing, diligently keeping your hands clean, and monitoring your health for symptoms. If you do begin to exhibit symptoms, including a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, please contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Right now, our top priority is the health and safety of everyone throughout St. James. We will continue to provide information and updates as they become available. I am proud of how our students, staff, and community have come together. For now, please be safe. #stjtigerpride