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.