As circumstances evolve, so do plans
ocal school districts are vigorously adapting to the ever-changing pandemic situation.
On Monday, Superintendent Mark Bedell of Kansas City Public Schools announced in a letter addressed to families that the “Kansas City Health Department issued new and updated guidance stating that in person-school was not advised in Kansas City.”
What has prompted this updated guidance? The answer: rapidly rising numbers of positive coronavirus cases in the region.
Over the past 10 days, there has been a “substantial increase in folks under age 19 having this disease,” said Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department.
Given higher rates of infection, Kansas City Public Schools are re-evaluating their reopening plans.
“We had intended to offer in-person learning options, but those are no longer advised at the moment,” said Bedell. “Instead, we will pivot and adjust our reopening plans throughout the next week in collaboration with the health department, our staff, our board of directors and local officials.”
In Clay County, where a public health emergency order went in effect Sunday requiring face masks in all indoor public areas, the Liberty and North Kansas City school districts are still preparing to offer several options for families to consider for their children returning this fall.
“As the pandemic situation evolves, so will our plans and processes,” said Susan Hiland, director of media and public relations for the North Kansas City School District.
Will the North Kansas City School District offer in-person learning to more than 20,000 students this fall? The answer has to do with the recommendations of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), as well as local and state health departments and it’s not dissimilar to the method other districts are basing their decisions.
“North Kansas City Schools’ plan for learning this fall is designed to be flexible to ensure safety for students, teachers and staff,” said Hiland. “We will continue to gather information, assess options and have thoughtful dialogue on how to best move forward. Any decisions will be made while working with local and state health departments and the CDC for guidance.”
Like many school districts, the North Kansas City School District offered in-person summer school. About 900 elementary school students enrolled for in-person summer school.
As of yet, the district hasn’t had anyone in summer school test positive for COVID-19.
“We are taking extensive safety precautions to ensure our students and staff are safe at school,” said Hiland.
The average student to teacher ratio during summer school is 18-20 students per classroom, said Hiland. Now more than ever, the student-teacher ratio is important. Classes with too many students make it harder for students to keep their distance from one another, officials point out.
Two of the district’s year-round elementary schools–Winnwood and Crestview elementary schools–returned to in-person learning last week. The district is requiring students to wear masks as a protective measure in its schools.
“I have spent time in both schools and was extremely impressed with the modifications made to support the health and safety of our staff and students,” wrote Superintendent Dan Clemens and Board President Jan Kauk in a message on Twitter. “The students were doing an amazing job of wearing their masks. As an old educator, it was heartwarming to see kids in our buildings again. In addition, I saw new data from the CDC that masks are working.”
In the Park Hill School District, district officials are graveled by the fall reopening of schools and Park Hill Online.
“Because our schools are such a critical part of our daily lives, we have been working non-stop to prepare for the upcoming school year. There has not been a single day in Park Hill since this began that was not dominated by finding the safest possible options for our schools. We asked for feedback from our students, staff and families; we referred to experts from Children’s Mercy, KU Med and our local health departments to form our health and safety precautions; we asked teachers to work over the summer to improve our distance learning; and we developed a remote, Park Hill Online option for our students,” wrote Superintendent Jeanette Cowherd in an email to families on Monday.
The administration recognizes that many families have questions and concerns, especially after Kansas City Public Schools paused plans for in-person learning this fall.
“This is always on the table in Park Hill, as the situation keeps changing rapidly, but for now, the data is different in Platte County, and we are moving forward with our reopening plans,” said Cowherd.
With school districts struggling over their reopening plans and health officials alarmed by the rate of new infections, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas Tuesday recommended schools push back the start date until after Labor Day.
“We want to get students back into the classroom as quickly as we can-but that cannot occur until we obtain adequate PPE infrastructure to protect our students, teachers and staff,” said Lucas. “Beginning in-person learning after Labor Day will provide more time for our schools to prepare for what classroom learning looks like as we continue working to stem the spread of COVID-19. Much of our reopening guidance moving forward will be dependent on Kansas City and school districts receiving our portion of CARES Act funding from our counties, which will fund vital PPE, infrastructure, and virtual learning support for classroom learning in a safe and responsible manner.”
School districts are taking the mayor’s recommendation under consideration.
“We are reviewing the recommendations from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas about the start of the school year,” Park Hill district officials said Tuesday evening. “We will keep you posted if any of our plans change.”