St. James School District will require students wear masks at the start of 2021-22 school year

Lori Amos
The Rolla Daily News

St. James R-I School District will start the 2021-2022 school year requiring students, staff and community members to wear masks in all district facilities.

St. James School District Superintendent Tim Webster said the district will start requiring students, staff and visitors to wear masks in all buildings on Thursday since it is the safest action plan due to the community’s high COVID-19 infection rates along with the entire school gathering for the first time since the summer break. 

Webster said the current plan of action for the school district is to remain fully masked when indoors when social distancing cannot be maintained for the first 14 days of the school year. Then on Sept. 6, a decision will be made if masks can be removed based on community infection rate and the rate of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines in the district. 

“We have been in constant communication with local health officials. Per those conversations, I feel confident in saying waves or hotspots of COVID-19 have moved in 7 to 9-week timelines,” Webster said. “The initial two weeks of masking should put our county near the end of this timeline.”

Webster hopes at that time the district can move into Level 1 of the 2021-2022 “Return to Learn School Plan.” 

If the school rate of positive COVID-19 cases or quarantines in the school reaches 8 percent or higher after the initial two weeks of entry, masking will be required throughout the school year for 14 day periods until the rate falls below 8 percent. 

According to Webster, the 8 percent guideline has been designed to maintain enough staff members to hold in-person learning. If students’ attendance falls below 90 percent, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will not allow the district to count the day as an educational day. 

“I am confident that this plan can and will be scrutinized. However, I will always make my number one priority of all decisions made for the safety of all students and staff and, secondly, to provide the best education we can for our students,” Webster said. “If we do not have staff members due to quarantines, we cannot provide the education your children deserve.”

Currently, the St. James R-I School District Return to Learn School plan has three levels of re-entry based on guidance from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the local health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The first level of re-entry, Level 1, is where school activities will be as normal as possible. Social distancing will be used when possible, and masks will be optional in all situations for students and staff; however, the district may require visitors to wear masks. 

Visitors to buildings will still be restricted or limited, and the district will use cohorts to limit interactions when possible.

Hand washing and hand sanitizer will be available and frequently encouraged. Webster asks that all parents and staff members conduct self screenings and do not come to school if symptoms are present. 

If St. James Public Schools moves into Level 2 or Level 3 of re-entry, masks will be required for all students, staff and guests while on district property. 

If the school district moves into Level 2, classes will either take place in person, not at all, or online if allowed by the state. 

No visitors will be allowed in buildings, and the district may establish capacity and attendance limits for events or school activities. 

Each building will also have procedures in place for when students arrive until the start of classes specific to their building.

During Level 3, classes will not be in session in person, and online learning will take place if allowed by the state. 

School buildings will be closed to students, and staff will still work to administer online classes.

Staff will work remotely if any situation changes when the district is in Level 3 of re-entry, where it is not safe for staff to work from school. 

Health screenings will occur before entering buildings, and social distancing will be mandatory. 

All activities will be canceled or rescheduled, and the district will determine a re-entry plan for a safe return to school. 

If the St. James School District is required to move into Level 3, the district will move into an online learning environment. 

The elementary school will use Google Classroom, and St. James School District will send devices home to students. 

St. James Middle School and St. James High School will utilize Canvas to operate daily, and all daily learning will be teacher-driven to prevent learning regression. 

Learning will move forward with standard grading practices in place during Level 3. 

Virtual Learning

Both virtual and in-person learning will be available during the 2021-2022 school year. 

The district asks that families decide on what will be best for their families. They can select online or virtual learning while registering their child. 

All parents and guardians must fill out an application when enrolling in online courses. After they apply, their child’s building principal will contact them to discuss the virtual choice. 

Any student that is found not keeping up with their coursework will be required to leave virtual and enroll in seated classes. 

Students approved for virtual courses will need to contact their building principal if technology is required. 

Students enrolled in virtual classes will not be allowed to participate in Missouri State High School Activities Association activities and other extracurricular activities. 

According to the district, “the basis for this decision is if a student is afraid of attending class our activities hold fewer restrictions and social distancing is harder to achieve than in the classroom setting.”

St. James School District will provide support for students without internet connectivity. 

In-Person Learning

Students will be encouraged to maintain an appropriate distance from each other, and staff will teach students good hygiene practices. 

Personal water bottles will be encouraged, and the district has installed water bottle filling stations to help reduce the use of water fountains. 

During the day, there will be time for frequent hand washing and sanitizing, while students and staff will be observed for illness before starting a class or the school day. 

Those experiencing symptoms will be referred to the nurse. The district will use seating charts for contact tracing. 

Masking, Personal Protective Equipment

Webster said district staff and students who are unvaccinated are encouraged to continue wearing masks while in district facilities. 

The district will offer a limited supply of masks to anyone who wishes to wear a mask during the school day.

All masks and face coverings must comply with the district dress code requirements. 

They must be free of any wording or advertisements that could cause a substantial disruption to the educational environment. 

The district could require guests to wear masks during all three levels of the district's return-to-learn plan. 

Any student at the health office that a school nurse determines has COVID-19 associated symptoms must wear a mask.

Transportation 

Webster notes federal orders regarding public transportation require masks for all students and staff on buses, regardless of the level of re-entry. 

The district will separate students on the bus where feasible, but social distancing cannot be guaranteed. 

Buses will have a hand sanitizer, and bus drivers will be trained appropriately in COVID-19 safety measures. 

The district still encourages parents to pick up or drop off their students if possible to reduce the number of students on the school bus. 

The district will use seating charts for contact tracing. 

Arrival, Dismissal

The district asks that parents not drop off students earlier than necessary before their scheduled start time unless they attend a scheduled activity. 

Lucy Wortham James Elementary School will open to students at 7:30 a.m., John F. Hodge High School will open to students at 7:30 a.m. and St. James Middle School will open to students at 7:45 a.m. Students will have access to hand sanitizer upon arrival at school. 

The district asks that students not arrive until after the building is open when staff is on-site for supervision. 

Breakfast and Lunch

In all three return-to-learn levels, breakfast will be a grab-and-go style in all buildings. 

In Level 1, lunch will be regular meals, and students will eat in cafeterias with limited movement to prevent contact with others. 

The district will provide regular school lunches to students in their classrooms during Level 2 of re-entry. 

During Level 3, the district will provide breakfast and lunch weekly if students sign-up for meals. 

Hand washing and hand sanitizer will be available before and after lunch. 

COVID-19 Case Action Plan 

The district will follow the direction of the Phelps Maries County Health Department and communicate with the public based on health department recommendations and guidelines on who can be notified based on direct contact with others and facility exposure. 

St. James School District will not undertake district-wide notifications for positive or presumptive positive cases unless a child or staff member needs to be notified of the potential exposure to that positive case. 

The only exception to the procedure would be a community or school-wide event where contact tracing could not happen. The district has a legal obligation not to violate HIPPA guidelines and rules and follow those rules and the health department's guidance in all notifications. 

St. James staff will do contact tracing in consultation with the local health department. 

The department will also make the final decision on quarantine status, including exemptions for vaccinated individuals.

The school district will consider phasing school closures based on city, county and state guidelines. 

The district will consider the percentage of a site population testing positive for COVID-19 relative to the environment of the school building. 

Individual building or classroom closures may be implemented, depending on the exposure risk level across the district. 

St. James School District will communicate vaccination opportunities to all eligible students and staff members. 

The district encourages each eligible staff and student to visit with their healthcare provider regarding the decision to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Fully vaccinated individuals are exempt from quarantine under current guidelines. 

St. James School District will continue to provide testing for staff and students if the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides tests.

If tests are not available, the district will provide locations of testing for students and staff. 

St. James School District’s Return to Learn Plan was last updated Aug. 1, and will be reviewed once every six months with a group of stakeholders, including students, parents, administrators, teachers and Board of Education members. 

To view the entire Return to Learn Plan, visit https://www.stjschools.org/page/return-to-learn.