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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, June 25, 2020, as Gov. Mike Parson looks on. Photo by Missouri Governor's Office

While most decisions about what school will look like in the fall will be made at the local level, Missouri's elementary and secondary education leader says her department is temporarily easing the power that attendance has over schools' finances and performance measures.

The time for school to start again will be here soon enough, and Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said Thursday that decisions such as about class size and whether students should wear masks will be up to local officials.

"While building closure was necessary in March, there are a number of serious consequences that come from our students not attending school in person. These implications are being considered along with continued risk of COVID-19, and therefore, school leaders and local health officials are working thoughtfully to reopen our schools," Vandeven said.

The consequences of students not being at school include students not being able to participate because of lack of access to remote learning, child abuse that goes unreported, less access to food made available through school, and families having to stay home instead of work because there's not another child care option available for them, she said.

From what's known of the results from schools' surveys, Vandeven said, "it seems the majority of our families and educators agree they want to be back in school, learning in person, but with extra precautions."

That's going to require some shifts in thinking in education, including "making contact tracing as simple and as efficient as possible" for local health officials by having "organized documentation that can account for students and staff members, and their interactions," she said.

Vandeven also said to expect to see schools do away with things such as perfect attendance awards and attendance-incentive programs — in order to emphasize the importance of staying home when sick for students and staff.

The state uses schools' attendance figures as part of Missouri's school accountability and improvement system — the Missouri School Improvement Program — and also in calculations of schools' funding.

Vandeven said the State Board of Education will waive the attendance metric from MSIP, and the board will make sure schools are paid for in-seat learning, virtual education or a combination of both.

She said attention will also continue to be paid to making sure students have equitable access to technology and the internet for remote learning, and more information on a video series to help teachers prepare for remote learning would be shared in the coming weeks.

MoDOT considering road closures to prevent crashes

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna also spoke Thursday at a briefing by Gov. Mike Parson.

McKenna discussed a public safety issue he and other officials have touched on before — despite the amount of traffic being reduced this year from the COVID-19 pandemic, more Missourians have died on the state's roads than this time last year.

As of June 24, 406 people had died in traffic crashes, compared to 363 as of the same date in 2019, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

McKenna urged people to wear seat belts, not to use phones while driving and slow down.

"One move we're considering is full road closures in areas where we're experiencing high (numbers of) vehicle hits. We know the public doesn't like to be inconvenienced this way, but if that's what it takes to make sure our workers go home alive at the end of their shift, that's what we'll do," he said.

On COVID-19, Parson encouraged Missourians to register for free community testing; more information on those testing events' dates and locations and how to register is available at health.mo.gov/communitytest.

"Again, while certain areas may experience outbreaks, this does not mean there has been a second wave. We are now able to aggressively test in these areas and box in the virus. Overall, Missouri is still in a good place. We are constantly monitoring data across the state, and our positive rate (of infections identified among people tested) continues to decline," Parson said.

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