JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are currently in the middle of a special session on violent crime, but one Democratic lawmaker from St. Louis wants to talk about helping schools reopen as COVID-19 cases rise in the state.
Gov. Mike Parson called for the special session earlier this month, and he’s stated multiple times, the session is strictly focused on violent crime.
But Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, said lawmakers should be making sure administrators, teachers and parents have the right tools for students to return to the classroom.
Schupp said she feels like it’s time for the state to provide better guidance for schools to reopen during the pandemic. During opening day for the special session Monday, she introduced the Smart and Safe Schools Act, Senate Bill 12.
“The superintendent ultimately has to make the decision for their districts, but let’s help provide them with information they need to do this in a smart and safe way,” Schupp said. “One topic everybody is concerned about is — whether they’re a student or parents or grandparent — (they’re) saying they don’t know what to do.”
The measure would bring volunteers from the health care and air filtration industry, architects and school leaders together for a roundtable discussion.
“The cost that would be incurred or cost of things like making sure when teachers have to stay home to quarantine if they’re still getting their salary, or the cost of making sure that the personal protective equipment is available,” Schupp said.
Parson is touring schools around Missouri this week, asking administrators how the state can be more helpful as schools open.
“What we’re trying to do is find out, OK, are we ready? And can we keep the kids safe? Can we keep the teachers safe? Can we keep everybody in the administration safe as they come in? And then are we prepared if something should happen? How are we going to deal with that?” Parson said.
“At the end of the day, education is without a doubt critical to our state, but so is safety and you have to figure out how do you keep kids, teachers, janitors and the administration side of that, cooks, all that comes together and have to decide how to deal with that.”
Parson said most parents he has heard from want their kids to return to the classroom.
“I think they’re ready for the kids to go back to school, and I think that somewhere around 90% of parents say they want their kids to go back to school,” Parson said.
The governor said it should be up to the local school district on their decisions for the school year.
“I am confident in the administrators across the state, and I’m confident in the school boards that are around here that got elected to make decisions for their communities, and they’re going to know what best suits their community,” Parson said.
When asked if he would consider looking at Schupp’s legislation during special session, Parson said, “We are just focused strictly on violent crime right now with the homicide rates here in the state.”
Schupp thinks if the governor would just listen to Missourians, he would change his mind.
“And the governor needs to know that this is top of mind for so many families throughout our community,” Schupp said. “He would hear clearly what’s really on their minds right now is, ‘How do we get schools open safely?'”
She said SB 12 is a bipartisan effort that calls for people from both sides of the aisle for the discussion.
“We want Republican kids to be safe as much as Democrat kids to be safe,” Schupp said. “There are people on both sides of the aisle who want to make sure their kids are safe in their schools.”
As for the cost of this legislation, Schupp said the CARES Act should pay for PPE for school districts.
Lawmakers are currently on a break from special session until they return after the primary election next week.