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story.lead_photo.caption Missourians for Educational Change protest Monday outside the Governor's Mansion ahead of a Tuesday meeting discussing the reopening of schools. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

Before state lawmakers met to talk this week about reopening plans of school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly formed organization of educators came to Jefferson City on Monday evening, saying the state should not allow in-person classes to begin later this month.

Missourians for Educational Change held a protest in front of the Governor's Mansion. Organizers said it was held, "to remind Gov. (Mike) Parson about the lives that will be saved with a mandate for virtual learning until both COVID-19 cases and community spread have been reduced. We demand our government makes the choice that will save lives."

The group gathered on the sidewalk along East Capitol Avenue placing cardboard tombstones with various messages such as, "I wanted to learn A-B-C's not R-I-P."

Andrew Rexroat, a teacher from Kansas City, said, "I want to go back to school as much as every parent wants to, but I don't want a single child to die from an unsafe return. We want to make sure that everything is being done to protect every single child. How can schools become a safe place for kids in Missouri if kids die from going to school?"

Rexroat said they also wanted to speak for the safety of not only children but their families as well.

"My son has asthma, and we have two elderly members in our household, and it's just not worth the risk," said Latasha Lee, from Belle, who joined the other group members. "One kid gets it in the classroom, and it can spread so fast. I have three kids at home, and there's no way to keep them socially distant."

The changes Missourians for Educational Change wants to see include schools to start in-person classes only after a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases and community spread rate below 5 percent. 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.

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The group got an unexpected visit from the Missouri House Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who said she applauded what the group was trying to do and is also working on ways to address the concerns the group has pointed out.

"Everyone is terrified for their kids' safety, and there are provisions that could have been put in place to make sure we had places for our kids to go," Quade said. "We've had several months over the summer where the governor could have been taking steps or making decisions and he just didn't."

The Jefferson City School District and Blair Oaks School District are planning to reopen Aug. 24. Helias High School plans to have the first full-day of classes for all students Aug. 19.

Last month, Parson told reporters schools needed to be reopened and later traveled the state talking with administrators and teachers about what needs to be done to make that happen, adding plans will be based on each district's unique needs.

The Missouri departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Health and Senior Services released school reopening guidance that focused on proactive protocols for screening, physical distancing, and masks or face coverings, as well as reactive strategies to address symptomatic people at schools, positive cases and contact tracing.

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