Some schools in the Ferguson, Missouri area are preparing for the worst.
The grand jury deliberating whether to charge police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown is expected to make a decision this month, and CNN reports that the announcement could come as early as Sunday. In anticipation of this ruling and the possibility that it could spur protests, a number of area school districts have made emergency plans in case they have to cancel class.
Weeks of sometimes violent protests followed the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, 18, who was unarmed at the time of his death. Amid these protests, some districts around the St. Louis suburb cancelled classes for days in late August. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency in Missouri this Monday, citing "the possibility of expanded unrest" as well as the need to protect people and businesses from "violence and damage."
Several representatives from school districts in the St. Louis area told The Huffington Post that they are not taking any chances either. Indeed, many have been preparing for the verdict and its possible aftershocks almost since the original shooting.
“We have been communicating with our parents about this city-of-Ferguson situation since August the 11,” Grayling Tobias, superintendent of Hazelwood School District, told The Huffington Post.
The Hazelwood district has been urging parents to update their emergency contact information. It has also publicized its own emergency phone lines and says it will utilize its inclement weather procedures to automatically call community members if necessary. The district has set up partnerships with local faith-based organizations that will provide food and shelter to students in the event that school is cancelled.
“This is a historic event for everyone around the country, quite frankly -- not only here in St. Louis and the state of Missouri,” Tobias told HuffPost. "All of the North County superintendents had a meeting just to make sure we’re sharing information, that we’re all on the same page. The safety of our students and staff is the highest priority that we have.”
Notably, in late October, the superintendents of seven districts near Ferguson asked Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, to announce the verdict either on a weekend or after 5 p.m. on a weekday so as to limit disruption. The St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office told district leaders they would be given 24 hours' advance notice if the jury’s decision was made on a weekend, and three hours' notice if it happened on a weekday.
"The transportation department has reviewed bus routes and will re-route buses for students who are displaced," Tobias wrote in a recent letter to the district community. "Our security officers and law enforcement partners will provide additional security at our school campuses. Outsiders will be removed if they appear on our campuses."
Tobias told HuffPost that district leaders have talked to students about the importance of peaceful protest, and teachers have been given resources on how to talk about the Brown shooting with students, as seen below:
Meanwhile, in Riverview Gardens School District, students have been given more weekend homework than usual this month, in case they have to miss school later.
“We don’t anticipate problems," Melanie Powell-Robinson, director of communications for the district, told HuffPost. "But we recognize there may be scenarios where we have to close, and we just don’t want to miss that academic opportunity if [students are] out of school for a day."
The district is also working with church groups to provide students with food in case school is cancelled, and is working to partner with a library to provide academic activities. Some classes in the district this week will also offer help to students on coping with stress.
Daphne Dorsey, a spokeswoman for Normandy Schools Collaborative, the school system where Brown was a student, told HuffPost that while Normandy schools were not affected by civil unrest over the summer, that's no guarantee they won't be affected this time around. The schools have sent home an emergency packet for parents, which has a section on how to talk to children about crisis events.
“Our main priority is to keep the doors open as long as possible," said Dorsey. "But if safety becomes a concern, we'll take steps."