A new state statute requires Missouri’s K-12 districts to start the school year no earlier than 14 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September, unless the State Board of Education waives the requirement. Board members are discussing whether to waive the requirement and give districts the option of starting the school earlier this fall.

Missouri Board of Education discusses classes next fall, students dodging school work

An uptick in coronavirus cases is projected in the fall – possibly affecting how much learning kids will have at school. During Monday’s board meeting, Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven says the coronavirus is an extenuating circumstance and the department is not trying to take advantage of the situation.

“It’s still very, very early on COVID loss, but summer loss is clear – that when many of our students, particularly our students who tend to struggle the most – when they are away from school for a period of time, significant learning loss can occur, and that is especially true in our youngest learners,” says Vandeven.

Board President Charlie Shields agrees with Vandeven.

“In the healthcare world, there’s widespread belief that you’ll see COVID-19 come back in the fall at some point. The challenge will be that it’ll be combined with flu and influenza at that time, which makes it even more challenging,” says Shields. “So, you could see additional disruption sometime this fall. So if we can get more days in by an earlier start date, seems to me that would be appropriate.”

Shields is the CEO of Truman Medical Center in Kansas City and a former Missouri Senate president.

The board plans to revisit the item during next month’s meeting.

Meanwhile, board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge of Pasadena Hill near St. Louis says she’s heard about some teachers reporting difficulties in getting students involved since the coronavirus threat closed schools statewide in mid-March.

“That’s a very real problem that’s been brought to my attention,” she says.

Vandeven says some teachers who had a hard time connecting with families before the coronavirus outbreak are having even more problems now with kids learning from home.

“People are saying ‘Well if you’re not requiring a grade, if you’re not requiring a test, if you’re not requiring this the kids are not participating.’ That’s a deeper question that I think we need to explore,” says Vandeven. “As we move forward, how do we communicate with families? That partnership has always been essential, but how do we effectively communicate with our families in typical times and then we would have a much greater possibility for that to carry over into a situation like this?”

Vandeven says districts must take the lead to keep kids engaged.

How much of a role lack of broadband internet and technology has to do with the students dodging their work is unknown, but the board did discuss a survey detailing the digital divide in Missouri.

The survey of about 450 of the state’s 555 school districts and charter schools shows about 21% of Missouri students – or 150,000 of them – do not have access to broadband internet and cannot afford the technology.

The latest Federal Communications Commission data shows nearly 600,000 rural Missourians lack access to broadband internet.

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