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ST. LOUIS – As students start school again after winter break some are starting remotely while others will be back in class.

More Illinois schools are also starting the school semester off virtually. However, there is a difference in how schools are allotted virtual classroom instruction in different states.

For example, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education no longer has its Flexible Long-term Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) plan that they had during last school year, so this may make going virtual more difficult in some school districts.

One St. Louis Public Elementary School is returning to class with virtual learning because of rising COVID-19 cases at least until Jan. 10. The district also announced sports will be canceled until students and coaches test negative. 

“We found out that we had too many members of staff that had to be quarantined for COVID-19 to be able to effectively run the school. It’s a small school, so it didn’t take all that many people, but it was enough that we had to make a quick pivot,” said George Sells, a spokesperson for St. Louis Public Schools.

The spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers St. Louis said, “We feel like kids need to be in school but we want to be as safe as reasonably possible.”

The current staffing shortage for teachers is making that more challenging.

Missouri-based Education Plus, a non-profit that collaborates with local districts, echoed that message. It says the current rise in numbers brings a new concern in regards to staffing. It says there is already a reduced pool of substitutes and if a school building has a significant number of staff out due to COVID it will become difficult to properly staff buildings and provide an effective in-person learning environment.

Other school districts have announced they are also making changes as students return to the classroom. Several school districts will be going to optional masking but have thresholds in place where masking would be mandated. Most schools have adopted a policy that if a building sees a 1 or 2% infection rate it would return to mandated masking for at least two weeks.

There are some other schools like St. John Vianney High School that will restart the year virtually.