Elementary returns to in-person learning; RSD exploring ways to bring secondary students back safely

Lafayette prepares for Quarter 2, which is set to begin Oct. 26


Sophia Scheller

During her 1st Hour AP Environmental Science class, Gretchen Whelan begins her Zoom session. Teachers have been working from the building unless they were given permission to work from home due to a special circumstance like a health condition.

Juli Mejia and Hannah Fitts

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), younger school-aged children (under 14 years old) have a lower risk of transferring COVID-19 to others. In light of this and other data, the Rockwood School District (RSD) has decided to move forward with allowing Pre-K through 2nd Grade to return to in-person learning beginning Sept. 30.

That being said, there is still one question middle and high schoolers want to know: when will they get to return to school? 

Although Superintendent Mark Miles doesn’t know the definite answer to this question, he hopes that students will be able to return to school sometime soon. Additionally, the district is working on plans to make that happen.

“If you look at the higher transmission rates among our older students, it makes that transition a bit more challenging, but I would love to have all students 6-12 back in our schools as soon as we can,” Miles said. 

Regardless of what happens in the future, Quarter 2 is approaching and students and staff need to make preparations for the changeover to those classes, whether that is a continuation of virtual learning or some other form.

Principal Karen Calcaterra is working with other staff members to plan the procedure for students to return items from Quarter 1 so that they can be inventoried and ready for students to get for their next classes. Quarter 2 begins on Oct. 26 and students will begin their classes that were scheduled for 2nd, 4th and 6th Hours originally.

Each department is working on a materials list right now and we will be selecting dates soon for the next materials distribution,” Calcaterra said. 

RSD did announce last week that after a meeting with all of the Grade 6-12 principals, it was decided that Rapid Response Team’s focus would now shift from the early learning and elementary levels to focus on the middle schools and high schools and their return to in-person learning.

Early Childhood and Kindergarten through 2nd Grade students will return to classrooms Sept. 30 and Grades 3-5 should follow soon after. Parents did still have the option for those students to continue with virtual learning.

In making the decision and planning a timeline for secondary students to return to in-person learning, there are four areas the district will examine. These areas include schedules and staffing, enforceable health and safety measures, students, community and staff education and well-being and district and school readiness. 

Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Support Services Shelley Willott said, The goal of these teams is to work through details that can be brought to the Rockwood Learning Council (RLC) for input and feedback. We want to make sure that all stakeholder voices are involved in this planning so that our return to school is both well-planned and thorough.”

This guidance is intended to aid the district as they prepare and plan for the integration back into the classroom. There are many speculations as to what exactly that pan will look like, at this time, however, “[there is not] a lot to report on at this time,” Calcaterra said.

The RLC is made up of representatives from all of the middle and high schools. That group will meet three times beginning this week to provide additional guidance to the district Rapid Response Team.

Those decisions can’t come soon enough for many who are anxious to get back in the building.

Junior Grace Raymond is keen to get back to school in person as she recognizes the negative impact virtual learning has had on some students’ mental health due to the isolation.

“The missed human interaction and miscommunications that occur in Zoom classes, is sadly to blame. The teachers are trying their best and working their hardest with what they have and with what they can do, but I have heard many of my teachers say it is too difficult to continue,” Raymond said, “However, I do believe that the online option should still be available for high-risk groups or for those who feel they are more productive under online learning programs. Sadly, going back to school in person would heighten the risk of transmission of COVID-19, but it would lower the depression, anxiety and suicide rates.”

Assistant Principal Colleen Fields said she feels confident Rockwood will do what it can to create the best-case scenario for students to return to school.

I think everyone at Lafayette and in schools across the country want to bring students back to a safe and healthy environment.  I feel confident that our district will do what it can to create the best-case scenario for us to return to school,” Fields said.

Fields also acknowledged there will be many changes and that the Lancer community will have to remain cautious to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“During a normal school year, the staff of this school is always concerned with the well-being of our students and their families.  It would pain me to know that any of my students were ill, much less having contracted COVID, so I’m hoping that everyone is doing their best to stay safe by washing their hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. We will all need to do our part to maintain our safety and that of one another,” Fields said.

Fields and other district officials have said even when students can return, it will be a very different-looking place due to the precautions that will be in place.

New methods of disinfecting and cleaning have proven successful in reducing the transmission of COVID-19. But when students return, they will still need to social distance, wear masks and follow very specific safety procedures put in place. 

Like many other students, junior Abby Perzan wishes there was a way to return to school without the complications and worries. 

“I would love to go back in-person classes but I would be scared every day that me or my friends would get the virus. I just don’t know if it’s worth the risk,” Perzan said. 

Rockwood and many other districts across the St. Louis area are trying their best to bring students back to a safe and healthy environment. Going into the 2020-2021 school year, Miles announced the original hybrid learning plan Rockwood planned to offer was no longer an option and all students would participate in virtual learning.

The reason reported by RSD for this switch was a shortage of teachers available to meet the needs of students taking classes both in-person and online, as well as increasing numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the area. That could still be a concern as the district again works toward getting students back in school.

However, now many districts are moving forward with a slow approach to in-person learning by bringing in smaller groups one at a time beginning with the youngest learners and then evaluating the data.

Miles said specific details and timelines for secondary students would not be announced until the district’s Rapid Response Team and Board of Education make decisions based on the success of each phase of returning groups of students and the most current data from local health professionals.

Fields said, “I certainly want us to be back in school; you won’t find an educator who doesn’t miss his or her students and do what they love every day. I also want us all to be safe and healthy.  I can’t say what is or isn’t worth the risk as I see both sides as equally important.”