First day of in-person school in KCK district

Students at Grant Elementary School, 1510 N. 4th St., Kansas City, Kansas, returned to in-person school on Wednesday, March 31. (Photo by Kamron Porter, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools communications staff)

The first day of in-person school in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district went very well on Wednesday, according to district spokesman Edwin Birch.

“I think people were just happy to see people and to see kids,” Birch said. There was laughter, smiling faces and “it was awesome,” he said.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade returned to in-person school after having been at home for remote learning for around a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were safety precautions in place, including masks, social distancing and clear barriers. Students at the elementary level are sitting in small groups, or pods, within the classroom.

Until now, most students in the district had been in remote learning through the internet. A small group of students, including some high school seniors, some special education students and some students with internet connectivity problems, came back to in-person school earlier this year.

Teachers in Kansas City, Kansas, were able to be vaccinated before they returned to school.

Birch, executive director of communications for the district, said more than 80 percent of the district’s parents selected in-person instruction for their students. The other 20 percent opted to stay at home in remote learning, he added.

Classrooms at Grant Elementary School and at other schools in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district look a little different as in-person school reopened Wednesday. Students are wearing masks, there are clear plastic barriers and students are sitting in pods (small groups at tables). (Photo by Kamron Porter, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools communications staff)
The first day of in-person school was on Wednesday at Grant Elementary School, Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kamron Porter, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools communications staff)
The first day of in-person school was on Wednesday at Grant Elementary School, Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kamron Porter, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools communications staff)
The first day of in-person school was on Wednesday at Grant Elementary School, Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kamron Porter, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools communications staff)

KCK school board votes to return to in-person classes March 31

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education voted Tuesday night to return to in-person classes on Wednesday, March 31, earlier than previously decided.

Students still will have the option for remote learning, if their parents choose.

District officials explained that the reason for changing from the earlier approved April 5 return date was that the Kansas Legislature had passed a bill requiring the March 31 return date. Different forms of the bill are expected to go to a conference committee before final approval, and after that, the bill would be signed or vetoed by the governor.

Matthew Andersen, interim assistant superintendent, said the district will return to five-day-a week school, with early release on Wednesday, as it had done in prior years. Parents have the option for in-person learning or for remote learning for their children.

Andersen said Senate Bill 235 failed earlier, but then the idea came back in Senate Bill 63, which required all districts to have a full in-person option available by March 31.

The school district has been holding remote classes, with select groups having returned to in-person classes earlier.

Since March 31 is a Wednesday, the school district plans a half-day then, as it has in past years, according to district officials.

Dr. Valdenia Winn, a school board member who also is a state legislator, was the only one voting against the resolution to start on March 31 because she said the bill in question mandated student attendance for five days a week, and the district’s proposal had a half-day on Wednesdays for students. In her opinion, it did not meet the bill’s requirements.

Dr. Alicia Miguel, interim superintendent, said her interpretation was that full-time school was the same here as in the past. For several years here, Wednesdays have been a half-day for in-service training.

According to Andersen, early childhood education (preschool) will continue with the April 5 start date.

Thursday, April 1, will be a full day of school. Friday, April 2, will be a half-day district in-service and half-day records prep for the third quarter grades, according to the negotiated agreement, Andersen said, so students will not be there that day.

Wanda Paige, board vice president, said it’s not right for other groups such as the state Legislature to decide these issues for the local school boards. She encouraged people to write to their legislators and let them know that the local school boards should be deciding these issues.

Parents currently have the option to change their students’ attendance to either in-person or remote, by contacting their school office.

According to district officials, 75 percent of early childhood (preschool) students have chosen in-person; 75 percent of elementary students have chosen in-person, 64 percent of middle school students have chosen in-person, and about 67 percent of high school students have chosen in-person.

KCK school board modifies school re-entry plan in case legislators mandate reopening date

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education unanimously passed a school re-entry amendment on Tuesday night, March 9.

The amendment says the district, which had already passed its school re-entry plan last month, will offer a five-day-a-week in-person option beginning on March 26 if the Kansas Legislature passes Senate Bill 235.

State legislators have the local school board jumping through hoops as the district tries to anticipate what’s coming down next from Topeka and how it will affect the school reopening plan. School district officials said a remote learning option would still be available.

Last month, the board approved a four-day-a-week in-person re-entry plan with Wednesdays off for cleaning, with a remote option also available to parents. That plan would have taken effect April 5.

Dr. Stacy Yeager, a board member, said that she wanted to approve the school district’s recommendation on the five-day-a-week plan in order to give parents more time. As a parent, she said it was important to have as much advance notice as possible. Parents often have to have time to make child care arrangements.

Dr. Valdenia Winn, a school board member who also is a state legislator from the 34th District, said the bill has not passed at this time, and there was always a chance that it would be amended in the Legislature before it passes, if it does pass, or when it goes to conference committee.

Dr. Winn said the intent of the Senate bill was to bring all the students back to school in person, and to punish those districts that remain in remote learning, reducing their funding.

“The reality is, the Legislature is mad at COVID federal dollars that will come. They’re mad that KCK and Wichita have been remote. They’re just mad,” Dr. Winn said during the meeting.

If Senate Bill 235 doesn’t pass the Legislature, then the district would go back to its other plan of four days a week in person, with Wednesday off for cleaning, and also with the remote option still possible, according to district officials.

Board member Wanda Brownlee Paige, a former teacher, remarked that she would say what no one else wanted to say.

What the Legislature has done is taken away the power from the local school board, and they’ve done that to all the districts in the state, she said.

“They’re deciding what’s best for us,” Paige said. “What might work in western Kansas might not work in northeast Kansas, and that’s part of the problem.”

Paige urged everyone to write letters or messages to legislators expressing their views.

Parents are choosing whether students return in person or opt for remote learning. Lisa Garcia-Stewart, district director of student services, reported that by March 8, about 15,395 students had chosen in-person school, while 6,620 students opted for remote learning. They are still enrolling students, she added.

Now that there has been an amendment to the school re-entry plan, parents will be able to call the school district and change their students’ re-entry plan, to either in-person or remote, according to Matthew Andersen, interim assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Dr. Alicia Miguel, interim superintendent, said their thinking was that if Senate Bill 235 passed, it clearly stated that they need to offer an option. Now that parents know it might be five days a week, some parents may change their mind, she said.

That leaves only three days this week for parents to call the school district and let them know if they want to change to either in-person or remote learning, before spring break starts, according to Garcia-Stewart. Spring break is March 15 to March 19.

After that, parents will have Monday, March 22, to tell the district about any change in their children’s re-entry plans, according to Garcia-Stewart.

There will still be a certain level of uncertainty, however, as parents will not know right away if Senate Bill 235 will pass.

A group of students has already returned to the district’s school buildings, including those who may have had challenges connecting to their classrooms on the internet.

In other action, the Kansas City, Kansas, school board voted unanimously to lower the credits required for graduation for high school seniors this year.

The district had required 25 credits, while the state of Kansas had required only 21 credits. Seniors this year only will be allowed to graduate with the 21 credits required by the state, according to district officials.

Dr. Troy Pitsch, instructional improvement officer, recommended the change.

He said the district is seeing 10 times the number of hardship applications it usually sees for graduation. They’re seeing more than 200 applications, when usually the number is around 25, he said.

The new graduation requirements will drop one unit of math, from 4 required now to 3; a half unit of English, from 4.5 to 4 units; and two units of career and technical education to no units required, according to district officials. Electives will drop a half unit, from 6.5 to 6 units of electives.

There will be no change for science, social studies, physical education and fine arts requirements.