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Ticker: Homelessness organization gets $2.5M grant; Developer pays $10M for Becker College properties



Ticker: Leicester to buy Becker College campus; Netflix buys Wonka author Dahl’s catalog

A Boston nonprofit that provides services for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth has received a $2.5 million grant, the largest in the organization’s more than 50-year history.

The five-year grant to Bridge Over Troubled Waters from the Liberty Mutual Foundation will help the nonprofit address some pre-existing infrastructure needs; expand housing that allows young people an opportunity to live independently as they build the financial resources to find an apartment; and boost outreach.

“We are so grateful to Liberty Mutual for its investment in our comprehensive approach to helping vulnerable young people experiencing homelessness,” CEO Elisabeth Jackson said in a statement.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters said homelessness among people between the ages of 14 and 24 is growing, and many of them are physically and sexually abused.

Developer pays $10M for Becker College properties

A developer who paid $10 million for 27 properties in Worcester once owned by now-closed Becker College said he plans to return some buildings to single-family homes, affordable market-rate apartments and student housing.

Russ Haims of Hampton Properties LLC closed on the sale Friday, The Telegram & Gazette reported. The purchase includes 24 buildings and three parking lots.

He said he wants to protect the neighborhood, known as Elm Park.

“It’s still such an attractive neighborhood, it doesn’t have to be rebuilt — it has to be repositioned,” Haims said.

The city previously bought some Becker College properties. Leicester has agreed to pay $20 million for Becker’s campus in that town.

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More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates



More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates

ST. LOUIS — A ruling from a judge in Jefferson City could lead more St. Louis-area school districts to end their mask mandates.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled last week that Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services regulations empowering local, unelected, health officials to impose sweeping orders like quarantines, mask mandates, and shutdowns, are unconstitutional.

“Missouri statutes give elected legislative bodies, not individual health agency directors, authority to create county-wide laws related to communicable diseases,” Green wrote.

The ruling has reignited the fiery debate about mask mandates in St. Louis County.

Area school officials are now scrambling to decipher the impact on their schools.

The superintendents of schools in the Rockwood and Parkway Districts have sent letters to parents this week saying, “No changes for now”.

Still, the letters say the ruling may impact the districts’ COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which have included quarantines and masking for much of the pandemic.

A group of 60 area superintendents that has held weekly “virtual” meetings throughout most of the pandemic has met twice this week in the wake of the ruling.

They have not released any details on potential changes being discussed.

At the beginning of the current school year, Ft. Zumwalt Schools in St. Charles County made masks optional for the district’s 17,000 students. Under the new policy, if three or more students in a class are COVID-positive, then there’s a mask mandate for that class. If more than 4% of students at any school are positive, the mask mandate becomes school-wide but not district-wide.

“We’re doing it by building,” said Supt. Dr. Bernie DuBray. “We have one building with 23 cases and one building with 11 cases. Then, throughout the rest of school district we have just less than 1% in any of the buildings. So, why would you mask up your whole school district for something that just needs to be dealt with by building?”

The district’s positivity rate is currently .006.

“I think there are districts that are watching and seeing how our numbers are going. In terms of the whole district, numbers are pretty stable. I think if people see that the numbers stay stable they make look more at our plan,” DuBray said.

None of the district’s 27 schools currently has a mask mandate.

Any changes in mask policies for other St. Louis area districts would likely take effect after the new year.

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Festus daycare center to shut down, affecting more than 100 children



Festus daycare center to shut down, affecting more than 100 children

FESTUS, Mo. – A daycare center in Festus will permanently close its doors this month, forcing families of more than 100 kids to find new help.

The Wee Care Learning Center plans to shut down on Dec. 17 due to costs. Staff members said they received notices over the past couple of months, warning them that the daycare would eventually close — but the owner’s decision to shut down earlier than anticipated hit them hard.

“It was so sudden. We don’t know what to do, and we’re in limbo,” said Dianne Russom, the lead teacher at the Wee Care Learning Center.

Retirement isn’t in the cards, but it’s the kids they’re more concerned about.

“I mean there are some still starting next week,” said Russo. “They’re going to do the last two weeks that they can do with us because they were on maternity leave, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Parents like J.R. Hamilton said they don’t know what to do, as many daycare centers in the area have a waitlist.

“Everyone is scrambling, not just ourselves to find childcare, but the whole Jefferson County is just inundated,” said Hamilton.

Some parents said they will have to temporarily leave their jobs or reduce their work hours to stay at home with their kids.

“I’m going to have to take three to six months off from work just to be home,” said parent Nicole Kilian.

Another parent, Ryan Fonner, said: “My wife and I both work at Mercy at the outpatient treatment center and we’re actually having to go down to part-time care for them.”

Donna Ames, the assistant director at the Wee Care Learning Center, said the closure is especially hard because the staff has built a connection with all the children.

“You can tell that the parents have told their kids that they’re going somewhere else, and they’re having the same emotions that we all are,“ said Ames.

In 2019, a ballot measure was approved by Festus School District voters to raise taxes to pave the way for new projects, including an early childhood program.

In a statement, the Festus School District Superintendent said: “It is a facility that checks all of the boxes that would be required to start an early childhood education program in the district. The district has not yet closed on the facility, but we are hopeful that will occur in the coming weeks.”

The district’s early childhood program, won’t start until later in 2023.

For those still looking for new childcare, the school district is in talks with other childcare agencies to provide care after they close.

A Wee Care parent also made a Facebook group called “Families of Wee Care” to connect parents from the past and present.

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Lincoln County schools to loosen COVID protocols after health order ruling



Lincoln County schools to loosen COVID protocols after health order ruling

LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. — The Winfield R-IV School District is the first in the St. Louis area to loosen COVID-19 protocols for its students after Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that health orders such as quarantines violate the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause.

The judge ordered that all existing health orders issued by local health authorities are “null and void.”

During Monday night’s school board meeting, district leaders approved modifying their close contact protocol to align with the court ruling. The district will no longer require students or staff to quarantine if they do not have symptoms and were a close contact with someone who tested positive to COVID-19.

“Once we saw that court ruling come out last week, we were very motivated to take action,” said Winfield R-IV School District Superintendent Daniel Williams. “Following judge Green’s decision last week, we met Monday night and really recognized that the original guidance from DESE and DHSS were not valid at this point.”

Superintendent Williams said students who have symptoms will still have to quarantine unless they test negative for the virus, or have a note from a healthcare professional.

 “We’ve been extremely blessed here in Winfield that our numbers have stayed extremely low,” the superintendent said.

Among the more than 1500 students across the district’s four schools, there are currently seven students and two staff members that have tested positive for COVID-19. Six students are considered close contacts, according to the district’s data released this week.

“The data that really helped drive our decision is that the large percentage of students who we were quarantining from school and restricting their ability to have in-person instruction where we had such a very low percentage of student and staff testing positive,” Superintendent Williams said.

Tom Ellersieck, a grandparent of four students in the district said some of his grandchildren had to be quarantined in the past.

“I’m an ex-teacher and I think they need to be in school and they need to be safe in school,” he said.
Superintendent Williams said the community overall has welcomed this change of loosened protocols but will continue to keep an eye out on cases.

“In many communities throughout the country, there have been very different opinions on how to approach mitigating measures on covid, and I think at this juncture our Board of Education is certainly representing their constituents well.”

FOX 2’s Zara Barker asked Williams if there was some concern due to the Omicron variant.

 “I think over the last 18 months there is concern with everything that is mentioned, I think right now it is a really wait and see, we really rely upon the officials that are in a position to give schools guidance,” he said.

View the letter district officials sent to parents below:

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