COVID-19 is so named because of its origin in the year 2019, but it is the winter of 2020-2021 that will be a big problem on the local level as education institutions work to adapt.
Earlier this year, well before St. Joseph reached the point where more than 10 local pandemic deaths per week was becoming a norm, Missouri Western State University decided that having class during the approach of winter — when people are more likely to be sheltered indoors in tighter spaces — wasn’t the wisest course of action. To that end, final exams were concluded by Tuesday, nearly three weeks early in comparison to the 2019-2020 academic calendar.
“Missouri Western State University will be guided by the best available science-based evidence and expert recommendations to make informed decisions about on-campus activities,” an online publication about this issue by the university reads. “The incidence of COVID-19 on our campus and in our community, the availability of resources for responding to the illness, as well as key resources to continue providing quality education — and applied learning experiences — will be considerations in (schedule changes).”
The decisions it did make appear to have worked, with only one active, on-campus COVID-19 case recorded on the last academic day of the fall semester. A total of 17 cases affecting people off-campus were reported. With an enrollment of about 4,350 students, the total number of active cases never exceeded 100 at a time in the fall semester, and usually remained below 50.
The St. Joseph School District has had comparatively mixed outcomes with a significantly larger number of people involved: Just under 10,550 students and roughly 1,500 staff. The district has been providing weekly updates, usually on Friday mornings, on the number of sick and quarantined people in its purview. The latest information, in the 13th week of reports, reflects the state of affairs as of Nov. 19. On that day, 24 students and 22 staff were sick, while more than 400 staff and students were in quarantine based on confirmed exposure to a sick person. These numbers are down from more than 500 quarantines earlier in November.
Dr. Marlie Williams, assistant superintendent of academic services, updated the Board of Education on Monday that enrollment for spring 2021 has been opened as planned. Those who have been in the Virtual Academy also are being given the option to transfer out, to in-person classes. About one quarter of SJSD students are in the Virtual Academy this semester.
“In terms of our transition data, in terms of between face-to-face learning and Virtual Academy … we are sitting at a net difference of 69 students right now between those who want to enter the Virtual Academy and those who want to leave,” she said. “We believed it would be about even, a net transfer between the Virtual Academy and our buildings. And that is what the data is proving out at this point.”
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