JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri is reporting another 981 COVID-19 cases Tuesday and as numbers grow, teachers, parents, students, and even some lawmakers, wonder what the return to school will look like.
Some House members held a meeting for a Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday morning to discuss how the state is responding to the coronavirus and looking at how school districts are reopening.
One thing all representatives in the meeting agreed with is there is not a one-size-fits-all concept for reopening schools. During the three-hour meeting, Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services Dr. Randall Williams and the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven told lawmakers what they know about the virus.
“In one way did anyone say we could open schools as usual,” Vandeven said.
As schools across the state decide what their school year will look like, Williams and Vandeven think it’s time to return to school.
“We’re hearing about an increased rate in suicides, we’re hearing about just what long-term social and emotional development, partly for our younger learners, the impact that we could see decades from now,” Vandeven said.
“As a public health protective, we think school is really important developmentally, that we know that children learn brain development from certain windows of time,” Williams said.
Other lawmakers aren’t on board with sending their children into classrooms.
“I just feel, and I understand there is a risk versus reward of okay kids need to learn, they need to be in school, they need to learn the behavior, I get it, I have kids, I know, I’ve seen it,” Rep. Matt Sain, D-Kansas City, said. “But at the same time, you know, what if my kid now gets a heart disease?”
Gov. Parson is leaving it up to local school districts to make their own decision on what reopening schools looks like.
Vandeven said access to the internet is a problem for some students. She said one in every five students do not have sufficient access to broadband.
“The digital divide that exists in Missouri is very real and we need to solve that as a state and we know that and we’ve been working on broadband and we’ve been working on expansion and making sure that our children have access to this in their homes has become absolutely essential,” Vandeven said.
Williams said DHSS will help with contact tracing in schools.
“Every health department has to, within 24 hours has to, any case that that’s reported to them by the state for ages 3 and 21, they have to do their contract tracing within 24 hours,” Williams said.
Teachers began protesting outside the Capitol last month asking the governor to move schools online until cases are reduced.
Williams said it’s critical everyone gets a flu shot this year.
“As we have flu season and cold season and COVID season as people congregate inside, it’s very very important that we have the capacity to do everything we can to protect our PPE to protect our hospital resources, to protect everything, we need to do as much prevention as we possibly can,” Williams said.
Williams said he meets with Gov. Parson and eight infectious disease experts have met every Saturday for the past five months.
DESE is encouraging counties to offer some of the CARES Act funding from the state to help schools pay for PPE and cleaning supplies. That money can also go towards local health department and contact tracing, but Williams said Tuesday that as of three weeks ago, more than 80 percent of health departments in the state have not received any money.