Since March 13, KSD students have operated according to our district administration’s decisions regarding our education in the pandemic. From the announcement of online school on March 26, to the closure of the district until July 1 and our current status as an all-virtual learning environment, learning-related decisions have been dictated by KSD and approved by the school board for the safety of students. Now, within the last two weeks, KSD has released announcements regarding their back to school plan, aiming for a return of middle and high school by Nov. 9.
At this point — after seven months of executive decision making — students are starting to question the ‘why’ behind these decisions, and we are not satisfied. Of TKC staff, 88% (57/65) believe KSD has not handled the coronavirus pandemic in the best way possible for the community.
With each decision to return, KSD has asked parents and teachers for input and preference — but nowhere have students been asked the same. At the high school alone, 1,820 students are in attendance and that number is only growing. The students are the largest percentage of who will be in the building on Nov. 9, yet we don’t have a survey to fill out; we haven’t been asked for ideas; we haven’t been able to share our fears with the administration that determines how we learn for seven hours a day, five days a week. They aren’t just turning a blind eye to what we are saying — there aren’t any eyes to see us with at all. In an interview with TKC on Oct. 22, Dr. David Ulrich, KSD superintendent, seemed open and receptive to the ideas we offered regarding opportunities for student feedback. The administration keeps missing the punchline, though: it’s too late. The Board unanimously voted to approve the high school plan Monday, Oct. 26. There is no time for feedback. Our fates have been sealed without our voices and, to an extent, without our knowledge.
Another concern expressed by TKC staff is the lack of communication from the district. On social media, within group chats or between friends during distanced bonfires, students are anxious and confused. They know little about what back to school will look like, and how those decisions are being made. How will bathrooms and passing periods be regulated? What happens if someone doesn’t wear a mask? Why are we going back Nov. 9 rather than the second semester? While this information could still be communicated closer to Nov. 9, that is not enough. As students, the focus of these conversations, we have very little idea what we are walking into — or logging on to, for the approximately 25% of students who are choosing to stay virtual, according to both Ulrich and KHS Principal Dr. Michael Havener. Beyond student discord, Havener also mentioned in an interview with TKC on Oct. 23 that he has heard frustration from KHS staff regarding district and board communication, but that he has not experienced similar issues. However, as students, we see, acknowledge and empathize with that, but we ask where our outlet is to express those similar frustrations. The administration can’t even hear us.
All of these concerns center around feeling like a valuable part of KSD, an idea Ulrich heavily emphasized. He wants to push for a partnership throughout the community, where we all follow guidelines to protect each other. This is hard to attain when the authorities are skipping over their students.
Let’s delve into the authorities that are making these decisions. Ulrich made it very clear that while there is a team of medical professionals advising the administration, the Board is the group that is making the tangible decisions — during a national pandemic that has killed over 200,000 people in the U.S. Not the doctors. They should be the ones deciding our return to school, not the Board made up of elected officials. As previously stated, about 75% of KSD will return in person. That’s quite a majority, and those numbers would easily win a member reelection. We cannot even risk people in public office making decisions to please their constituents, especially with the continuously alarming data. According to the St. Louis County Public Health Department, the average rate of new COVID-19 diagnoses in the 15-19 age group has distinctly increased since Oct. 8.
This is not a time for students – for the Kirkwood community – to sit back and complain, however. Our frustrations do not stop at this editorial or the Nov. 9 return. Since our Board has failed us, it is our time to do what students do best: we have to speak through what outlets we have available. Talk to your teachers, talk to your parents. Start a conversation with Dr. Ulrich – he responded personally to every parent email he received regarding the return decision.
And to the Board: we want to be heard. We are not sitting idly by, waiting to be told what to do like soldiers. We want to be a part of the community we center our lives around. While students will not have the opportunity to put in our two cents before the vote, the pandemic is not over and there are plenty of decisions to be made in the future. Speak to us and we will engage in conversation – we are one of your most valuable assets.