Local positivity rate is a concern
ollowing recommendations from the Kansas City Health Department and the Platte County Health Department, the Park Hill School District pushed back the fall start date to Tuesday, Sept. 8.
The change to delay the start date by two weeks was laid out in a document that describes the non-legally binding agreement reached between the school board and the Park Hill National Education Association (PHNEA). As outlined in the agreement, the district will also “provide an additional 10 days (80 hours) of paid leave to teachers and all other staff to be used for COVID-19 related health issues.”
Giving the explanation that the recent Platte County COVID-19 testing positivity rate is at 14.6% (a seven-day rolling average), Superintendent Jeanette Cowherd said “community spread is as common as it can be in our community.”
The positively rate is the percentage of positive cases among who are those tested.
Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the Platte County Health Department, this week gave The Landmark a quick analysis of the current COVID-19 situation in the county.
“Platte County has added more cases in July than during the first four months of the pandemic. The 7-day moving average percent positivity rate is one of the measures we use to determine the prevalence of the virus in the county. A sustained rate below 5% indicates that the virus is relatively well-controlled in the community. Obviously, we would like to see a sustained near-zero percent positivity rate. We peaked at about 18% on July 19. More recently, the rate has been around 10-12%,” Luebbert said.
Later Tuesday, county health department officials specified that as of Aug. 3 the county’s seven day moving average percent positivity rate is 12.8%.
“If folks continue to wear face coverings and physically distance, we expect to see the positivity rate continue to drop. When the rate stays low for an extended period of time, then we can safely return to in-person learning. Everyone has to do their part. It’s our civic duty. This is no time for politics. Viruses don’t care if you’re left-leaning or right-leaning. They’re just seeking a host,” Luebbert added.
According to the CDC, if the positivity rate is above 15%, districts should go into a full virtual learning mode.
The Platte County zip codes with the highest number of cases in the area include 64152 with 110 cases and 64150 with 88 cases.
The uptick in COVID-19 cases also swayed school officials to take precautions one step further. In-person students will start the school year in a blended mode, with preschool and elementary students attending in-person Monday through Friday, and middle and high school students on a hybrid schedule.
On any given day, roughly half of the student population will be in class and half would learn remotely. Students with a last name that starts with A through K will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays, while students with a last name beginning with L through Z will attend school on Tuesdays and Fridays.
All middle and high school students would learn remotely on Wednesdays.
“We hope to move them to 100% in-person when the levels of COVID-19 in our community decrease, but we might need to move to full distance learning if levels increase,” said Cowherd.
Dr. Mike Kimbrel, assistant superintendent for academic services, explained “there are still two options for students this year. So far, we have 25% (about 3,000 students) enrolled in Park Hill Online and 75% (about 9,000) planning to attend in person. The families who choose in-person learning could see their children move through a 100% in-person mode, a split mode or a 100% distance learning mode, depending on levels of COVID-19 in our area.”
To move from one mode of learning more carefully and effectively to another, superintendents across the metro area are asking health officials to develop a “gating criteria” for each school district and perhaps each school.
“Protocols should be developed for hybrid and virtual learning that can be activated if the circumstances dictate,” say school officials.
Dr. Cowherd said across the state line, school officials and parents already have this tool to guide them from transitioning from the online mode to hybrid mode to in-person mode.
Santi Rivers urged the board to allow parents to change their child’s mode of learning since the district added the hybrid (split) mode to their in-person mode only after the deadline expired for deciding between the two learning options.
The district complied with the request, extending the deadline to choose between the in-person mode and full virtual mode to Thursday, Aug. 6 at 5 p.m. Parents must call the district during business hours or email the district at PHonline@parkhill.k12.mo.us to update their preference.
Recently, parents questioned why preschool and elementary students attending the in-person mode will not shift to a hybrid mode, like middle and high students.
Kimbrel said for kids under age 10 there is “little evidence of significant levels of child-to-child transmission. We also have little evidence of significant levels of child-to-adult transmission.”
Dr. Cowherd fully agreed based upon what she has seen during summer school.
Still, plans remain subject to change as the situation continues to change, and district officials adhere to the latest guidance of public health agencies, say school officials.