By TIM ROWDEN
Hundreds of families of St. Louis Public Schools students lined up for the Safe Start Celebration at the Gateway Complex in St. Louis on Aug. 7.
Co-sponsored by the St. Louis affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420 and St. Louis Public Schools, the carnival-like event provided an opportunity to get registered for school, confirm school locations, get vaccinated against COVID-19, receive free health screenings and get free books, backpacks and school supplies.
“We have vaccinations here and we want to continue to pump out the word to the community,” Local 420 President Ray Cummings said. “Vaccinations and all the other protocols described, based on science, are the way we’re going to beat this thing – and we’re going to beat it!”
Members of Local 420 also are calling and visiting families whose children didn’t regularly attend school during the pandemic to encourage them to return to school. Students are scheduled to return to St. Louis Public Schools on Aug. 23.
‘MAKING SURE OUR KIDS CAN THRIVE’
AFT National President Randi Weingarten was in town for the event, one of dozens funded by AFT nationwide as part of the union’s $5 million Back-to-School for All tour, with the goal of getting kids back in classrooms for in-person learning while keeping everyone safe at school.
“In May, we said as a national union that between the vaccines and learning what to do with layered mitigation, we were confident that whatever was going to be thrown at us in August and September, we were confident that schools not only should be reopened but that they must be reopened in-person five-days-a-week and that could happen safely,” Weingarten said.
“This is about making sure our kids can recover,” she said. “This is about making sure our kids can thrive. This is about making sure we meet the social, emotional and academic needs of our kids. None of us created Covid; it’s a virus, but we all have to tackle it together and make sure that our families, our kids and our educators can overcome it.”
‘WHAT WE NEED’
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones was scheduled to attend the event but was quarantined after a member of her staff tested positive for COVID-19.
St. Louis Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed attended in the mayor’s place said the more people who can be vaccinated in St. Louis – and share their experience with family and friends – the better.
“They talk to relatives and they have friends they talk to and they’re going to say, ‘Well, I got vaccinated and I’m okay. It worked out good and it was quick,’” Reed said. “That’ll cause another family to get vaccinated and another family and another family. That’s what we need.”