Rockwood high schools re-open to in-person learners, St. Louis County announces tighter restrictions as COVID-19 rates climb

Governor announces loosening guidelines for quarantine, Rockwood to meet with experts and hold meeting before possibly changing its policy

At+a+Rockwood+Board+of+Education+meeting%2C+Superintendent+Mark+Miles+addresses+the+board.+At+the+next+meeting%2C+slated+for+Nov.+19%2C+the+Board+will+address+recent+state+and+local+announcements+made+placing+further+restrictions+on+St.+Louis+County+as+well+as+new+recommended+quarantine+guidelines+issued+by+Governor+Michael+Parson.

Sophia Scheller

At a Rockwood Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Mark Miles addresses the board. At the next meeting, slated for Nov. 19, the Board will address recent state and local announcements made placing further restrictions on St. Louis County as well as new recommended quarantine guidelines issued by Governor Michael Parson.

Makayla Archambeault, Editor-in-Chief

“I feel very positive about what I’ve seen within our schools. [On the first day back to in-person learning] I was able to tour all four high schools, saw a lot of smiling faces behind masks, so I saw a lot of smiling eyes I guess I should say. It remains a challenge, without a doubt, but I’ve seen a lot of student and staff enthusiasm and optimism for being back in our schools,” Superintendent Mark Miles said.

The Rockwood School District (RSD) welcomed some high school students back to in-person learning on Nov. 12. On the very same day, Missouri Governor Michael Parson announced in a daily coronavirus briefing, that he was recommending new guidelines in the state that would no longer require those who were exposed to a positive COVID-19 case within a school environment to quarantine for the required 14 days, as long as both parties wore a mask throughout the duration of the exposure.

While these guidelines are recommended by Parson, the power to enact them rests with each individual school district.

And, for now, Rockwood is not changing its policies.

Assistant Superintendent, Supervision of Schools, Lisa Counts said, “Over the next days and weeks, we will have conversations with the St. Louis County Department of Health and medical professionals in our area to determine if our quarantine practices need to change. [The Nov. 13]  board meeting is just for us to make a plan to contact various professionals to get them to weigh in on the next steps. As for the impact on possibly closing schools, that is just not clear.”

As of Nov. 15, new COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County have been at record highs. The highest number of new cases in a day in April was 355, in July was 1,988 and in September it was 2,059. Information from The New York Times. (Makayla Archambeault)

As of Nov. 12, St. Louis County has the highest number of cases since the outbreak of COVID-19 and a total of 40,359 cases and 914 deaths. Hospitals are becoming full and are canceling elective surgeries.

As a result of these numbers, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced new restrictions will go into effect this week in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

These restrictions include limiting social gatherings to 10 people, indoor dining will no longer be available and businesses must reduce the capacity of operations back down to 25%.  Page said the restrictions ask people to leave home only for work, school, exercise, medical care, worship or essential supplies.

Additionally, all those aged 6 and above must wear facial coverings in public and masks are highly recommended for ages 3-5. These restrictions go into effect on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 12:01 a.m.

Page also stated that contact tracing for COVID-19 must be taken, in part, into the hands of individuals as the Health Department is overwhelmed. Page asks those who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine 10 days from the last positive test or symptom and to alert anyone they have been in close contact with so they can begin a 14-day quarantine. Close contact is defined as anyone who was within six feet for 15 minutes or longer, even if masks were worn.

“We’re here in part because of virus fatigue, many people tell me ‘I’m done with this virus,’ and I can only say, ‘This virus is not done with us,’ and it’s not going to be done with us until we change what we do as individuals,” Page said in his announcement.

Page did not make any comments specifically regarding the student’s presence within school buildings, but RSD is taking new state and County guidelines into account.

“Before we would make any changes to our current quarantine structures and practices, we would need to carefully review those guidelines and consider those processes within our District. At this point, we do not anticipate changing our quarantine practices,” Miles said. “Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be working with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to examine those structures and processes, what those might look like in St. Louis County if we were to adopt them.”

Nov. 19 marks the next Board of Education (BOE) meeting, where the topics of new mandates ruled by state and local officials are likely to be addressed.

Although RSD does not anticipate changing the procedures they have in place, the District plans to review circumstances on a school-by-school basis in order to determine the best course of action locally, while keeping as many schools open as possible.

“We’re going to do all that we can to allow each of our schools to remain open and we are monitoring the health indicators, quarantines and positive cases on a school-by-school basis and would likely close in that same manner, school-by-school and not the entire District,” Miles said.

All school shut-downs would be a direct result of a ruling by Miles or the BOE. Additionally, Parson also has the authority to shut down schools on a state level.

However, if schools were to close their buildings again and move all students back into virtual learning, it is anticipated that it would likely be a result of a staffing issue rather than the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

“Some of our teachers have been quarantined, [which] doesn’t [necessarily] mean that they are a positive case, but they’ve been quarantined, which is limiting the number of staff members available to teach our children. Any move to a remote environment in a school, hopefully, would be for a very short period of time until we could recover the number of staff members needed to properly staff that school,” Miles said.

At Lafayette, in the past 14 days, 16 staff members have been quarantined with less than 10 testing positive for COVID-19. Additionally, 18 students have been quarantined but no positive cases among students in the past 14 days.

Miles said he and the BOE recognize the struggle many staff members are facing as a result of the reopening of schools to in-person learning while many students have chosen to remain online, but encourage them to remain optimistic for the future and reach out if they need help.

“I recognize the tremendous effort and challenge it is for our teachers trying to balance in-person learning and remote learning for our students. I’m optimistic that a vaccine will be with us soon and that we can return to a more normal environment in the very near future,” Miles said. “We are here to help and care for them and want to provide them assistance and support along this challenging learning journey because whether you are in-person or remote, school does look a bit different. We remain optimistic about our future, but it is not easy.”

For more information on Rockwood’s mitigation strategies, click here. RSD updates their dashboard three times a week and has it broken down by school, click here for a view of health indicators broken down by school and in the community of RSD.