Updated 9:21 p.m. Monday with cancellation of classes in Ferguson-Florissant all week
The Ferguson-Florissant school district has postponed opening yet again, now saying school would not be in session all week and would begin next Monday, Aug. 25.
Earlier, the first day, which had been scheduled for Monday, was postponed for one day because of concern about students walking to school in a community disrupted by protest.
Jennings and Riverview Gardens had canceled classes for Monday as well.
The start of school in Ferguson-Florissant was supposed to happen last week but was postponed after protests developed over the death of Michael Brown, a recent Normandy High School graduate who was shot by a Ferguson police officer.
Jennings said on its website that it was taking its action "out of an abundance of caution" because while there were no incidents reported in the district, authorities have set up their command post within its boundaries.
End of update. Our previous story:
Amid demonstrations, around the clock news coverage and at times violent clashes between police and protesters, thousands of students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District are heading back to school on Monday.
Melissa Fitzgerald is the mother of three children who go to school in the district. When the first day of school was postponed on Wednesday last week, she felt compelled to do something and started the Facebook group Parents For Peace to encourage community members to welcome students when they go back to school on Monday.
She said volunteers plan to focus their efforts on schools closest to where protests have been taking place.
“The idea of wanting our kids to be safe and have a good education is universal,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what we all want, everyone in this community. We can disagree on a million other things, but that is one thing that we all want.”
The idea took off on social media. On Wednesday about 80 people had joined, but by Sunday, the group had well over 1,700 members.
Along the way people from around the St. Louis region and the rest of the country began posting messages of support on the group’s Facebook page.
Over the weekend Erica Williams helped put together handmade signs to wave when students show up for the first day of school in the district. She has three children and said that she and her husband have fielded some tough questions over the past few days.
“We’re just trying to keep it positive for them,” Williams said, who also has two children who graduated from McClure High School. “So that they don’t go school and get into arguments or heated discussions.”
Great Circle, a behavioral health agency, is sending 25 therapists and counselors to schools to provide mental-health services for students. Jennifer Stephens, a seventh-grade English teacher at Ferguson Middle School, expects long conversations with students about recent events.
“The world came here, we’re about something someplace else,” Stephens said. “We’re going to have heartfelt conversations on Monday and for years to come.”
Door-to-door in Normandy
Normandy is also tied to the ongoing unrest in Ferguson. Michael Brown spent his senior year at Normandy High School. He graduated this summer, and pictures of him in his cap and gown have been displayed in the international media for days.
Meanwhile, this past Friday a St. Louis County judge ruled that the three families could transfer to accredited districts -- and that Pattonville, Francis Howell and Ritenour districts would have to accept transfer students from Normandy. The impact of that decision on the district finances is unclear; costs associated with student transfers brought the district to the edge of bankruptcy last school year.
Despite the turmoil and uncertainty, volunteers with Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) spent the afternoon going door-to-door, encouraging parents in the new state-run Normandy Schools Collaborative to make sure their children are in school on Monday.
Among those going walking through neighborhoods was the mayor of Greendale, Monica Huddleston, whose small municipality is one of 24 that sit within the footprint of the Normandy Schools Collaborative.
“We have to get to know the folks, we have to build relationships,” Huddleston said. “This won’t be the last time we come door-to-door.”
She said MCU's efforts dovetail with the new district's effort to build stronger ties with the community. For the past two weeks, roughly 60 people have volunteered to hand out tips for parents and encourage good attendance.
The new Normandy has been billed as a new model for how state officials will intervene in districts with chronically low academic performance. Anthony Davis’ son Breylon will be a freshman at Normandy High School and was optimistic about what the future holds for a district that required all previous staff to reapply for their jobs.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to step it up as compared to the years before,” Davis said. “I’m pretty sure all the teachers have to step their game up to be better teachers.”