As COVID-19 rates continue to rise in Wyandotte County, the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education on Tuesday night voted unanimously to postpone the return of students for in-person learning until the end of the third quarter.
Students would return April 5, with instructional staff returning March 22, under the new plan. The school district currently is in all-remote learning.
Earlier the board had planned to return to hybrid learning in January.
However, the board heard tonight that the positivity rate for the county had reached 32 percent, and the gating criteria goal is for the district to be at 15 percent or less.
During the meeting, the board heard reports about more staff absences recently, as the COVID-19 rates are increasing in the community. There were concerns about being able to staff adequately.
According to one report, there were nine open positions for school district nurses. Each school is supposed to have a nurse. District officials said they have been using agencies to fill some of these positions.
It also heard a report that 107 teachers have requested to work at home in the next semester. Some other teachers requested to work part of the time in the classroom and part of the time at home. Others said they could work in hybrid classes if the district could help with child care.
Parents have been asked to choose whether their children will attend remote or hybrid classes for the spring semester. According to district officials, 16,459 responses have been received, with 8,932 choosing the hybrid option and 7,527 choosing remote learning. The district was still waiting to hear from more than 4,000 parents.
Nutritional staff, which is in charge of distributing meals at the various schools, also were experiencing shortages, with difficulty staffing the sites, according to district officials.
The board voted to approve a staff recommendation to reduce the number of current “grab-and-go” meal sites in order to be able to continue them. For example, students who live near Silver City Elementary School would have to go to the nearby Harmon High School to pick up their lunches.
Any students who have trouble finding transportation to a different meal site could call the school’s principal or counseling staff to see if meal delivery could be arranged, according to district officials.
Some students, such as those in special education and language proficiency classes, will still be returning to school in hybrid classes in January, according to officials.
The options that the school board considered in its decision on the return of students to in-person learning:
Option A: Approve postponing the January return of students for in-person learning until the end of the third quarter. Students return April 5. Instructional staff return March 22.
Option B: Approve postponing the January return of instructional staff and students for in-person learning until COVID-19 positivity rates decrease (under 15 percent). Two-week notification to get instructional staff back into the buildings to allow for classroom-building transition. Another two weeks to allow for phasing students back into buildings.
Option C: Continue with the decision to return in January.
The board voted to approve Option A.
In making the motion for Option A, board vice president Wanda Brownlee Paige cited the absences of the classified staff and having enough people to clean and serve meals. “I’m not saying I don’t care about the kids. I do. I’d like to see them be alive,” she said.
One school board member, Dr. Valdenia Winn, requested more information about the students’ test scores and academic progress; however, that information was not available on Tuesday night. Paige said she thought it was better to make the decision tonight to give parents and staff more time to plan.
Board member Yolanda Clark pointed out that students this year have had to give up much. What incentives can they offer the students to keep them learning, she asked.
Paige said that this year, they are trying to teach students how to survive.
More information about the new plan for return to school, and also the plan for reducing school meal distribution sites for “grab-and-go” meals, will be posted on the district’s website on Wednesday.