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Missouri Students Were Supposed To Start School Later This Fall, But COVID-19 Could Change That

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Missouri districts are planning for a 2020-21 school year that begins with social distancing measures like smaller classes or even rotating schedules.

For years, the state's tourism industry pushed for a later first day of school. Now schools are asking to start sooner than Aug. 24 in case they have to close for COVID-19 again.

Missouri school districts trying to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 closures will be able to start sooner than they were supposed to next year.

School was supposed to start no earlier than Aug. 24, two weeks before Labor Day, according to a new state law championed by the tourism industry. They want kids vacationing with their families into August, not heading back to class so soon.

But even with groups like the Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association in opposition, state education officials agreed on Tuesday to create a waiver process for districts who want to head back sooner to make up for lost time.

“It truly is extenuating circumstances,” Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “It is very difficult to think about kids being out of school since March 19.”

Vandeven said educators across the state are worried coronavirus will disrupt the 2020-21 school year, too.

The Missouri State School Board Association has put together a 100-page guidebook that recommends, among other things, that schools close for a week if even one teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19.

“If you can build more days in earlier, before we get into fall and winter when that possible disruption may happen again, that’s another reason districts may want to look at doing this,” said Missouri State Board of Education President Charlie Shields.

Shields, who is also the CEO of Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, said although few kids are getting sick, they can still spread the coronavirus.

The state board approved the calendar exemption for one year.

Local education officials wanting to start school before Aug. 24 will have to hold a public hearing before applying for a waiver, and they’ll have to explain how it helps them better serve students.

Victor Lenz, who represents St. Louis on the state board, said what schools need right now is flexibility.

“This is the one thing I hear when I go to my superintendents’ meetings,” Lenz said. “If you look at the St. Louis area, we have the highest incidence rate, we have the highest death rate. Our needs are going to be quite different than they might be in rural Missouri or even in Kansas City.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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