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Education

Schools Are Already Out. But What About Summer School And Camps?

A counselor guides a camper toward the playground during a summer camp Aug. 1, 2019, at the Carondelet YMCA. Summer camps and school programs are up in the air because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
A counselor guides a camper toward the playground during a summer camp last August at the Carondelet YMCA. Summer camps and school programs are up in the air because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Parents are anxiously looking at the summer calendar for when they can get kids out of the house and into the responsible watch of teachers and summer camp counselors. 

Educators and camp leaders, however, say that for the most part, it’s still too early to say for sure.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last week declared all school buildings in the state would remain closed through the end of the academic year. That left open the possibility of summer school. Now education officials say they’re having conversations about if, how and when in-person summer learning could happen.

“Summer school is important to a lot of districts and a lot of students and probably never maybe more so than this year,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Roger Dorson. 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education formed an educator task force that’s working on recommendations and guidance for altering summer school.

School officials said they’re awaiting more guidance from that group.

“Everything is kind of on hold. If it opens up, we’d love to have summer school,” Ferguson-Florissant School District spokesman Kevin Hampton said.

Student and staff safety will have to be a guarantee, Hampton added. 

“Summer school will likely take place; I just don’t have enough information right now to tell you when it might be,” St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams told the school board Tuesday. “It’s highly unlikely after the pandemic that we will have a May-time or June summer school.”

Summer school traditionally starts in early June and runs three to four weeks. There’s no law saying summer classes can’t start later, and while there’s a minimum number of hours summer school must be, a school system can elongate it.

“I think there's a lot of misconception that you can only have summer school in June, but you could actually have summer school throughout the summer, clear up till the time you start the next regular school session,” Dorson said.

Learning loss over long breaks from school — known as the “summer slide” — is a perennial concern for educators. With an added two months to that break because of school closures and the limitations of distance learning for younger and low-income kids, there’s a fear there will be even more ground to make up.

Right now, school officials say they’re confident at least some remote learning can happen over the summer. Most schools will have a little more wiggle room for a later summer school, since school won’t start in most places until Aug. 24 because of a state law pushing back school starts in favor of a longer summer tourism season.

Yet St. Louis Public Schools is looking to start back up even sooner than it did last year. Adams presented a calendar to the school board Tuesday that resumes school as early as Aug. 4.

SLPS needs a waiver from the State Board of Education to start school earlier than the current law allows. The district asked for such a waiver in March, before the pandemic closed schools, and was rejected. State education officials have hinted they’ll be more open to waivers given the current situation.

Also under state law, summer school isn’t compulsory, but schools can require it for students who are deemed too far behind in school to successfully advance a grade level in the fall.

Paying for a longer or higher-attended summer school will prove a challenge for the state, which is already trying to claw back spending commitments as the pandemic shutdown halts tax spending and tax revenue.

“It's really a question that probably can't be answered at this point in time but certainly is concerning,” Dorson said.

Direct decisions on summer school timing and format will happen at the local level, Dorson said. He’s hoping to get guidance out to administrators as soon as possible.

A staff member gives out tablets to parents at Mann Elementary School in St. Louis Tuesday, April 14, 2020, as St. Louis Public Schools ramps up remote learning for the extended school closure.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
A staff member gives out tablets to parents at Mann Elementary School in St. Louis on Tuesday, as St. Louis Public Schools ramps up remote learning for the extended school closure.

Summer camps

Summer camps may not prove to be an option to entertain and enrich kids largely stuck in the house since spring break in mid-March.

St. Louis University canceled summer camps and institutes for at least the month of June, Interim Provost Chet Gillis announced Tuesday.

“We know this complicates the lives of many families who rely on summer camps. We also recognize how difficult this might feel, one week after Missouri schools announced closure through the academic year,” Gillis said.

But the Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis is still planning on holding camps in June. The club typically enrolls more than a thousand kids at nine sites around St. Louis for eight weeks of camps.

“From our side, it's kind of business as usual from a planning standpoint,” said Flint Fowler, the club’s president.

But any government or public health mandates on social distancing could halt completely or severely limit camp offerings, Fowler said. Field trips, meal service, interaction with counselors, or the number of kids allowed in a gym could all be restricted.

“It gives pause for opening camp if you have a severely limited number of youth that you can serve,” he said.

The Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club, which is a separate organization, is discussing the future of its camps, a spokeswoman said. The Gateway Region YMCA is also still reviewing options for the summer, a spokeswoman said.

"This will be based around stay-at-home orders, guidelines from the CDC, best practices, and ensuring what we decide moving forward is in the best interest for our families, the community and our staff," the Y's Megan Touchette said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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