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Missouri schools wrestle with decision on returning to class

Missouri Governor Parson visits Springfield Area School Districts
Missouri Governor Parson visits Springfield Area School Districts(KY3)
Published: Aug. 2, 2020 at 10:57 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - With coronavirus cases surging, several St. Louis-area school districts have decided to start the school year with online-only learning, while the state’s largest school district is limiting the number of days each student will attend in-person.

Springfield Public Schools plan to reopen with each student attending classes for two days, and learning virtually otherwise. Republican Gov. Mike Parson was in Springfield Wednesday and said he supported the plan.

Parson said after meeting with local educators that he understood the frustration of many parents who want their kids back in the classroom full-time.

“But when you look at a Springfield school district, I would look at how big that is, and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ and, ‘How do you do that safely?’” Parson said.

A growing list of St. Louis-area districts will start the year with virtual instruction only. The Clayton, Parkway, Pattonville and Webster Groves districts were among those to announce their plans Wednesday.

St. Louis County has no authority to mandate what schools do, but County Executive Sam Page on Thursday officially recommended that all schools in the county start with virtual classes.

Nearly 20 districts across the region have already announced plans for an all-virtual start to the school year. The first day of school in most districts is Aug. 24, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

St. Louis health officials said in a letter to school leaders that “it is unlikely that the spread of the virus will be sufficiently controlled in order for nearly 300,000 children and 25,000 teachers, in addition to thousands of other staff members, to attend school full time without the risk of significant outbreaks.”

Missouri is among many states that have seen a big rise in new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Missouri recorded 2,084 new cases Thursday, topping the one-day record set a day earlier of 1,927 cases.

The state has seen new one-day records 11 times this month, and the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases over the past two weeks has risen from about 644 cases per day on July 15 to an average of 1,443 new cases per day on July 29.

All told, Missouri has reported 51,258 confirmed cases and 1,253 deaths since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Despite the rising numbers, Missouri “is in a different place” than it was early in the pandemic thanks to better testing and a better understanding of the illness, a spokeswoman for the state health department said.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox said in an email that health officials now know more about how the virus behaves and are better prepared to deal with it.

Testing has also improved greatly, Cox said. Whereas only a few thousand Missourians were tested each week early in the pandemic, more than 90,000 people are now being tested weekly, she said.

Cox cited a big increase in the number of younger people coming down with the virus, raising concern that many have “let their guard down on using preventive measures such as social distancing, wearing face masks and using good hand-washing,” Cox said.

Copyright 2020 AP. All rights reserved.

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