(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph School District will resume in-person instruction, 5 days a week for students K-12, effective Jan. 14.
"The return to in-person learning was based on data; and the safety of students and staff was considered a top priority in the decision-making process," the district said in a media release.
The announcement came at Monday's board of education meeting.
“The best situation for any student, no matter what grade level is to be in the classroom in front of that highly qualified teacher and so our decision tonight reflects that," said St. Joseph School Board President Tami Pasley.
The current hybrid model will still be in place when students return from winter break on Jan. 5, and face-to-face instruction will begin Jan. 14.
"If data shows that we need to make some adjustments just like we had to do for Ellison a couple of weeks ago, we may have to go to remote for a building or a couple of buildings if we have issues," said SJSD Superintendent Doug Van Zyl.
Students enrolled in the SJSD Virtual Academy will attend classes online Monday-Friday beginning Jan. 14.
The district said safety protocols will be strictly enforced. Students will have to wear a mask, and classrooms and buses will continue to have assigned seating.
"There are numerous reasons why in-person learning is important for students," said Doug Van Zyl, Superintendent. "Data shows that many students are more academically successful when attending in-person classes. Schools provide a safe learning environment, counseling support, opportunities for social connections, and consistent routines."
The number of quarantine cases and staffing shortages forced the district to move to a hybrid learning model in early October.
Some teachers and staff notified the district that they would prefer the hybrid format to continue the second semester. J. Eric Simmons, the president of the St. Joseph chapter of the National Education Association said that was the preference of 67 percent of the members surveyed.
“We would have liked to see the district wait until the critical populations have received vaccinations in our community and that our staff would have received vaccinations prior to doing this," Simmons said. "Our biggest concern is that we are going to be putting students back into small classrooms, large numbers of students, 25 or more students in a classroom, close quarters, and we know that even with masks transmission is still possible.”
District officials said they understood the concerns voiced by the local associations but they had to balance the burden placed on families that are struggling with virtual learning.
“There is no perfect black and white plan. There’s still going to be here’s what we hope to do and then some gray that may come along the way depending on what happens with COVID," Van Zyl said.
District officials said the Monday-Friday in-person learning schedule could change if there is an increased infection rate in the St. Joseph community.
"If data shows that we need to make some adjustments just like we had to do for Ellison a couple of weeks ago, we may have to go to remote for a building or a couple of buildings if we have issues," Van Zyl said.
Pasley echoed that sentiment and said that the week between Jan. 5 and Jan. 14 provided board members some time to alter the plan if it was needed.
“I feel pretty good about the decision that we are making but again, it has to be fluid and it can change at any time,” she said.