As remarks made by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on sending children back to school went viral on Monday, Catholic schools in one of the state’s largest districts announced plans to return to in-person classes this fall.
Students who attend the more than 100 Catholic schools in the St. Louis area will go back to classrooms starting next month under a reopening plan announced Monday by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
In Columbia, both Tolton Catholic High School and Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School plan to have students in classrooms when school resumes on Aug. 24.
"We have many things in place to support the safe return," said Elaine Hassemer, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The announcement comes as several public school districts also are weighing whether to return to class as new confirmed cases of the coronavirus rise around Missouri.
Many districts are expected to offer parents the option of distance learning if they are uncomfortable sending their children back to school.
Columbia Public Schools is offering such an option.
"My top concern these days is we are going back to school and everybody is going to get sick," said Topher Otake, a 25-year-old teacher with Columbia Public Schools.
"I feel like I have one set of people who I am surrounded by that are my age and not very concerned if they get sick, and there is another set that are teachers and many of them are older and have families and stuff," she added.
Gov. Parson, a Republican, has stressed the need to reopen schools and get kids back in classrooms.
"We are very concerned of the attitude … of (politicians) around this topic," Otake said. "The governor sounds like it’s cool with him that all these kids are going to get COVID."
"These kids have got to get back to school," Parson said in a controversial interview Friday. "They're at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get COVID-19, which they will – and they will when they go to school – they're not going to the hospitals. They're not going to have to sit in doctor's offices. They're going to go home and they're going to get over it."
Otake stressed concerns over many educators’ tendencies to work through illness.
"Some of us could be asymptomatic and just not know," Otake said. "I was just thinking recently that for teachers it’s such a culture that we work through sickness. I’ve been at school sick for sure."
Democratic St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday encouraged parents to opt for virtual learning when possible.
"I do believe that school buildings will be as safe for teachers, parents and students as the districts can make them, but my own recommendation is to choose a virtual learning option when that's available," Page said during a news conference, citing a big rise in new reported cases involving young people.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis said the plan to return to in-person learning could change if the pandemic worsens. Missouri reported 530 new cases Monday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 33,624. The state also has reported 1,132 deaths.
Boone County added nine cases Monday as the county’s case total rose to 901. Two hundred twenty cases are active. The age 20-24 demographic continues to dominate Boone County’s virus count, with 250 of the county’s total cases.
The five highest single-day totals for new cases in Missouri all were last week. Hospitalizations also are on the rise.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that 34 Lutheran schools across the St. Louis region also expect to have students return to campus.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis said each Catholic school will follow the guidance of its local government and county health department on issues such as social distancing and other safety precautions.
Each school is developing "individualized plans based on location, enrollment numbers, facility size and design, constituents served, and information from local authorities," a news release from the archdiocese said.
In the Kansas City area, thousands of people are struggling to make ends meet due to layoffs in industries such as hospitality and entertainment.
The United Way of Greater Kansas City reported a nearly 50% rise in people at risk for homelessness between February and June, KCUR reported. The agency said most calls to its helpline during that span were requests for rent assistance.
Roger McKinney, Anna Brugmann and Gabriela Velasquez of the Tribune and Jim Salter of the Associated Press contributed to this report.