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High School Principal Explains Why He’s On Board With In-Person Classes

081720_provided_jonathanbutterfield.jpg
Provided by Jonathan Butterfield
Three of Lutheran High School South Principal Jonathan Butterfield's children will be among those starting class in person this week.

This week, Lutheran High School South kicks off its school year. And unlike most high schools throughout the St. Louis region, it plans to welcome students on campus five days a week.

That doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. As principal Jonathan Butterfield explained, the Affton high school (one of two Lutheran high schools in St. Louis County) has invested in a costly air filtration system. Masks will be mandatory, and classrooms have been arranged so each desk is six feet apart from the others.

Butterfield acknowledged the school is bucking the local trend. Going online-only “would be easier, for sure,” he explained on St. Louis on the Air. “But we just feel like we’re called to do what we’re going to do.”

Parents are on board. This year’s freshman class is the school’s largest in recent memory, Butterfield said, with some students apparently lured by the school bucking the all-virtual trend. While Lutheran South is offering an entirely virtual option for any families that want it, Butterfield said only a handful of families have signed on. Only about two percent of the school’s 430 pupils had opted for online-only classes, he said.

And while one teacher will be conducting classes remotely to protect an at-risk family member, the others are all on board, he said.

Butterfield said he’s keenly aware that many people may disagree with the school’s decision to reopen.

“But high school is so much more than academics,” he said. “The reality is that our teenagers are suffering mightily from the social and emotional ramifications of the pandemic. We all see they’re taking risks that may not make sense to adults, but it’s an indication of just how much they’ve been missing their socialized world as they knew it. Even before COVID, we’ve seen a steep rise across our country of stress and anxiety and depression and even suicide at alarming rates, and it’s only worsened since the pandemic.

“So, I believe our families are most looking for that community — in our case, it’s Christian community, and they want to be reminded of the certainty of their identity in Christ. … They see this as a stabilizing force in their life, something that they’re willing to take that calculated risk to make sure their kids can enjoy every day.”

Butterfield stressed that the school has done everything it can to mitigate risk. He knows it might not be enough.

“In three weeks, we may fail, and just like other schools, be online-only,” he said. “But it’s a risk that we are willing to take. Our families make significant investments in their kids, and we want to do everything possible to make their overall high school experience an excellent one.”

Butterfield himself is walking that walk as both an administrator and a parent: Three of his five children are in high school. All three will be attending Lutheran South classes in-person.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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