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Education

Private Schools Will Offer More In-Person School, For Now

River Road Lutheran School students, including Sheldon Robinson, center, pray before heading to lunch.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
River Road Lutheran School students pray before heading to lunch. Lutheran schools are among private education offerings that plan to reopen to students next month.

A promotional video from Barat Academy, an independent Catholic school in Chesterfield, offers parents the two things that seem to be often at odds during this pandemic: health and high-quality academics.

“To ensure your child remains healthy and safe as well as their academic needs met, our classes are never any larger than 15 students,” the video says over music.

Private schools in the area are trying to offer a more robust in-person school option this fall, but as the virus continues to spread through the community, those plans could also be scaled back between now and the start of school next month.

Barat Academy is developing virtual learning options as well, administrators said earlier this month during a recruitment event.

Public school districts around the region started backpedaling in the last few days on plans to offer some in-person learning this fall, saying the swelling coronavirus pandemic is causing too much uncertainty.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said in-person learning in some form is planned for its 100-plus schools. The Lutheran Elementary School Association also said its schools will open. 

“At this time we are planning to start ‘regular’ school August 24,” said Irene Desmond, admissions director at Grace Chapel Lutheran School.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese said that whether classes will be held in person five days a week or on an alternating schedule is up to each school. Re-opening of buildings is “subject to change,” said Maria Lemakis of the Archdiocese’s communications office.

“The intention to return to campus buildings at the beginning of this upcoming school year is contingent upon any new information disseminated over the next few weeks by government and health officials,” Lemakis said in an email.

Chaminade College Preparatory School will open its all-boys campus and dormitories this fall. St. Joseph Academy will offer only alternating days at the all-girls high school. Both are independent Catholic schools.

The rapid shift to distance learning in March highlighted discrepancies in education, especially around access to technology. About a quarter of public schools students weren’t able to complete virtual learning in the spring, state education officials said.

Public school teachers are expressing worry about having enough protective equipment and small enough class sizes to safely teach in person if their schools reopen.

Private schools, while some have bigger budgets, don’t necessarily have unlimited resources, said Jamie Driver, executive director of the Independent Schools of St. Louis, an association of more than 40 secular and religious private schools.

“Our schools, even in non-COVID situations, do tend to have a little bit smaller class size; some of that is kind of baked into their missions,” Driver said. “But, you know, they're struggling with resources, just like everybody else is.”

Driver said several schools in her association will offer on-campus learning with younger students divided into small cohorts in order to allow social distancing. High schools may offer blended instruction or alternating days, as is being offered by public schools, she said.

In an early warning that bringing students together in large groups may be hard, St. Dominic High School, in O’Fallon, Missouri, said Monday that 19 students and two guests who attended prom on July 10 have tested positive for COVID-19.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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