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Some Missouri Teachers Worry About School Reopening, Saying 'There Is No Acceptable Number of Deaths

Event organizer and teacher Chelsea Egli holds a sign saying "Ms. Frizzle would be so disappointed" at a rally Saturday, August 1, 2020.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman
Event organizer and teacher Chelsea Egli holds a sign saying "Ms. Frizzle would be so disappointed" at a rally Saturday, August 1, 2020.

A group of teachers and community members rallied Saturday at Mill Creek Park, advocating for Missouri to implement a statewide school reopening plan based on a decline in coronavirus cases.

They waved signs that read “Ms. Frizzle would be so disappointed,” “Science not politics,” and “Online until decline.”

Missourians for Educational Change is a newly formed organization calling for schools to start in-person classes only after a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases and community spread rate below 5%. While most Kansas City metro schools won’t open until after Labor Day, some schools in Missouri are reopening or offering parents a choice between in-person and online learning.

“We talk about the potential trauma of kids missing about three months of school,” organizer Andrew Rexroat said. “We’re not talking about the trauma of a kid potentially losing a loved one because of COVID.”

Rexroat teaches fifth-graders at Foreign Language Academy in Kansas City, which delayed its start date. Rexroat said he’s “pleased” with the way Kansas City Public Schools have handled the virus and wants to see a similar plan adopted statewide.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson has emphasized local decision making over the course of the pandemic, stressing that local leaders are best equipped to decide what’s best for their area.

Organizers also want state investment in broadband and laptops for online learning as well as increased support for students with special needs and students dealing with housing and food insecurity.

Alicia Bunton, whose 9-year-old attends school in the St. Joseph School District, said she attended the rally because she wanted to show support for educators. She would like to see more funding for protective gear for teachers.

“I feel like the state really needs to back our educators way more than they are, providing more PPE, providing clear and concise plans for what happens when a positive case is confirmed,” Bunton said.

Organizer Julian Vizitei said the tension he’s seen between some parents and teachers about reopening plans missed “the bigger picture.”

“We are facing choices because our state and federal government has forced these choices on us. They have not provided the aid families need,” Vizitei said.

St. Louis Public Schools teacher Grace Hogan drove four hours to attend the rally. She told the crowd that teachers have to speak up because “there is no number of acceptable deaths.”

“For decades now, we have taught teachers that it is their job to put themselves between students and a bullet,” Hogan said. “So here we are. It’s a little bit slower, it looks a little bit different than all the drills they made us run. But this is where we are, and we will stand here and persist and insist on a better plan.”

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

When Aviva first got into radio reporting, she didn’t expect to ride on the back of a Harley. But she’ll do just about anything to get good nat sounds. Aviva has profiled a biker who is still riding after losing his right arm and leg in a crash more than a decade ago, talked to prisoners about delivering end-of-life care in the prison’s hospice care unit and crisscrossed Mid-Missouri interviewing caregivers about life caring for someone with autism. Her investigation into Missouri’s elder abuse hotline led to an investigation by the state’s attorney general. As KCUR’s Missouri government and state politics reporter, Aviva focuses on turning complicated policy and political jargon into driveway moments.