Missouri schools get to decide whether to require masks, shift class size

Education
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(Missourinet)– State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven says many Missouri K-12 public school districts and charter schools have asked their families and workers what their comfort levels are about restarting classes this fall.

“From what we know about these survey results, it seems the majority of our families and educators agree, they want to be back in school learning in person but with extra precautions,” she says.

Districts will get to decide whether to require students and staff to wear masks when classes resume. During a press conference today, Vandeven says the state is not mandating them to wear masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Circumstances vary across the state –the age of the child certainly makes a distance, the ability to social distance. There’s a lot of factors that go into the mask decision-making,” she says. “So, we have left that to the local level.”

According to Vandeven, class sizes could be smaller at some schools when they start back up in August. The decision will ultimately be up to local districts.

“That’s exactly where our leaders are right now, is trying to think about the best arrangements to make for students and schools. Again, will be left to the local district, we could not make that decision at the state level. Classrooms are different sizes, what’s happening in each of the regional communities is vastly different. But I can assure you, that is a primary topic of discussion for our school leaders,” says Vandeven.

She says the state is encouraging schools to shift away from incentivizing perfect attendance. Since student attendance is used in accountability measures and determining the level of state aid to schools, she says the Missouri Board of Education is waiving attendance figures for the state’s school improvement program, the MSIP accountability metric. She goes on to say the state is also working to address ways to make payments to districts for in-seat learning, online schooling, or a combination of both.

For schools that offer virtual education, Missouri’s lack of broadband internet access will continue to be felt.

“While educational opportunities continued to be provided during the school closures, one in five Missouri students could not take part in those options,” she says.

She says closing schools was necessary in March to help fight COVID-19. But she says there are several “serious consequences” that can come from students not attending school in person.

“We know that schools provide kids much-needed social interaction and development,” says Vandeven. “Many have expressed concern about the adverse effect of behavior and mental health on our children that they may have experienced during the disruption to their normal routine and social emotional growth.”

A task force is working to develop tools to help schools identify gaps in student learning, both academically and in social emotional development. Once identified, Vandeven says targeted supports and interventions can be provided to get students up to speed.

Another adverse effect Vandeven points to is the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline having as much as a 50% decline in calls since schools closed. Many school employees serve as mandated reporters who make those hotline calls.

Since schools closed in mid-March, they have continued to fill the stomachs of hungry kids. Teachers, administrators and others have served more than 19 million meals Missouri students.

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