(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph School District is set to release its plan for the next school year later this month with contingency plans. However, as coronavirus cases surge teachers say there's one problem with no right answer.
“Being safe” is something the school district is trying to figure out how to balance; how do you be safe while opening schools in the midst of a pandemic.
Teachers at schools across the country and in Missouri reported concerns about how they couldn’t reach students who didn't have access to the internet.
“While educational opportunities continue to be provided during the school closures, one in five Missouri students could not take part in those options,” Commissioner of the Missouri State Board of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven said.
Last week confirming what teachers in St. Joseph have been saying for months.
"I know that some of these kids haven't been able to log on at all." Central High School art teacher J. Eric Simmons said.
Teachers in the St. Joseph School District said that despite best efforts, when classes moved online in March, some students logged out of school altogether.
"They haven't been able to communicate in any way because they just don't have the internet capabilities and so it's impossible to reach out to them," Simmons said.
Simmons is also the president of a local teachers association and has been speaking about this issue and asking his fellow teachers if this is a widespread problem.
"One of the things I asked them is are you guys experiencing a drop in the number of students that are asking for help in their email and other kinds of communication like that, and it's been a resounding yes," Simmons said.
Rhonda West is a special education teacher at Truman Middle School and saw her digital classroom shrink.
“The first week this was all new and novel, kids were excited to get on and see their friends and it’s kind of trickled down and not too many kids are getting on the internet," West said.
Then there's the group that can't log on at all.
“There’s some teachers that still haven’t connected with any students,” West said.
No internet means a whole host of problems; classes missed, assignments have no way of getting turned in, some families dropping out of touch completely. Unavailable by phone, email or any other form of communication as they struggle with the economic and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Families are having a hard time maintaining their income,” Simmons said. “They are having a hard time maintaining their livelihood and so that is going to cause some emotional stress on some families which translates directly into the students."
As recently as last week, the state education officials said they don't have a statewide solution to this problem, but they did say they are working to solve it.
“We will continue to focus attention on addressing equitable access to technology and the internet,” Vandeven said.