‘This whole time they’ve been telling us, hybrid, hybrid, hybrid.’ Parents feel blindsided and outraged about Rockwood’s decision to begin the school year virtually.

The front steps of the Administration Annex of the Rockwood School District were littered with posters advocating for more in-person schooling for students on August 6, as the Rockwood School District Board of Education met inside. 

Those waiting outside the building came with the intent of advocating for their students to get more in-person schooling days, whether it be through the hybrid learning plan or through their students going to school five days a week. 

“I would like the option, I would like the school board to give us the option of five days in school. Virtually, they have the option to have five days, not in school, and I would like the same for those of us who choose to have our kids in school five days,” Karen Branstetter, a Rockwood parent, said. “There are 21,000 students in Rockwood, 71 percent of people voted that they want their kid to go back to school five days a week. That would be 15,000 students, 71 percent, and yet we’re not heard.”

Parents waited not only outside the building to voice their opinion, but parents inside of the meeting waited to give their personal statements on how they felt the school district should proceed with the upcoming school year. 

“Tonight I ask the Rockwood School District to follow the recommendations of the St. Louis County Health Department and start the year in as much as a virtual environment as possible, which is the 100 percent virtual plan for Rockwood. Rockwood does have the capacity to do it and I think it should,” The first speaker of the board meeting, said. 

While some parents felt that virtual learning was the best option for the district, the majority of parents who spoke in front of the board felt that the hybrid or the five day in-person learning plans were the best options.

The patrons who spoke shared stories of their children struggling at home with mental illness and learning disabilities, others shared stories of moving across state lines, and there were also middle and elementary school students who stood at the podium to voice their concerns. 

“I have a daughter at Rockwood Summit who’s in the 11th grade and two days a week of instruction is just not sufficient,” Jennifer Winters, another Rockwood parent, said. “If I were to send her to school last year for only two days a week, I would be turned into the state for educational neglect, but it’s okay for the school district to only teach her for two days a week, that’s just not right.” 

After hearing from the speakers, Dr. Mark Miles, Rockwood School District’s Superintendent, addressed multiple announcements before sharing his comments and concerns on the schooling situation. 

“Certainly this has been an incredibly challenging environment for us all. There are so many perspectives about the approach that we should be taking, and I know that I personally have received so many comments and pieces of feedback from students, from our parents, from staff members, community members, medical professionals, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, and there’s one common theme, we all care about our children and we all care about the educational services we provide them, without a doubt,” Miles said. 

Miles continued to speak to the challenges and the concerns the district faced while trying to develop the hybrid learning model. It came down to the logistics of the model, and how taxing it would be to the district’s resources, along with how attainable it was to achieve the plan the district had set in place.

“I’ve heard directly from staff members, as well as you have, that we have to consider all of the elements within our plane. As I have considered all of the information available to us, based upon the feedback I have received from all those sources, our priority remains to get our children back to school five days. I would ask the board this evening to entertain a motion to move us to an all virtual environment, at least until the end of the first quarter.”  Miles said. 

The motion was passed 6-1. 

After news of the shift in plans from the district had been released, tensions grew outside the building as parents gathered to digest the news.

“This whole time they’ve been telling us, hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. They gave us four days to make a decision, do you want a hybrid or do you want virtual, they gave us four days. All these other schools and I referenced St. Charles, the Francis Howell School District, are going five days a week with a hybrid as a backup, and the virtual behind that. Their second option is virtual, so please tell me why they’re on the other side of an imaginary line, and the virus doesn’t cross that line.” Derick Pratt, a Rockwood parent of three, said. “We are in the top five school districts in the state of Missouri. Be the leaders. Our leaders inside there aren’t being leaders. They’re being puppets, and all the rest of you out there that are playing the game, living the fear, you’re doing exactly what they want you to do.”

As the meeting was adjourned, board members began to face the crowd. Some members stopped to answer questions from the concerned parents. Questions spanned from how sports will continue in the school year to whether or not the district had politicized the decision to learn virtually. 

“The data we received on what it would take to pull this off, to logistically pull this off, the number of staff that we need to pull this off, they don’t exist right now. We’re talking about getting bodies in schools,” Randy Miller, a member of the Rockwood Board of Education, said in response to concerns of the district’s intent and decision. 

Derick Pratt, front, and another Rockwood parent talk with board members after the meeting to talk about rising concerns regarding the decision of the board, August 6. (Grace Walton)

Despite the decision, parents are going to continue to advocate for 5 days of in-person schooling and the district is going to continue to develop the schooling plan for the upcoming year. 

“Believe me, just because of what we said tonight doesn’t mean that work’s done. I’m going to tell you that the work is going to continue and if you guys need help, keep sending your needs to us, it’s not falling on deaf ears. Just because we made a decision doesn’t mean we’re done,” Miller said.