School Board Entertains Idea of Bringing Students Back Full-Time

Tia Munoz, Editor in Chief

The Board of Education voted 4-2 to stay in Hybrid Learning at the board meeting on Sept. 21.  

“I really think that we should stay the course with hybrid for now, keep monitoring the numbers, let Matt (Hirsch) present to us what the data he got from our teacher survey- teacher and staff survey, and continue with the kind of process that Matt outlined for us in the email last week,” Lauren Tice Miller, Board president, said during the board meeting. 

Prior to the start of school, district leaders worked with professionals at Shawnee County Health Department, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Kansas State Department of Education to determine how to navigate the school year. The recent decision to continue hybrid came after much deliberation and looking over data from the County and district itself.  

A scorecard is used to determine the district’s level of transmission and severity of COVID-19. The card ranges from green (low) to yellow (moderate), to orange (high), to red (uncontrolled). Where the district falls on this helps to decide what learning scenario to use. The green region suggests that the district may be able to move back into on-site learning or on-site learning with restrictions. Yellow advises on-site learning with restrictions or hybrid learning. Orange advises hybrid learning or remote learning, and red recommends full remote learning. 

There are three factors that help determine the district’s score. The first is the average of two weeks worth of Shawnee County Index Scores. The County scorecard follows the same method of levels, ranging from green to red. From Aug. 30 to Sept. 12, the county fell in the orange region. 

The next factor is the number and distribution of cases within the district. From Sept. 12- Sept. 25, the district fell in the green region. This means there were either no cases, or the cases were spread out, isolated, and close contact tracing was successful. 

The third factor is staff absenteeism. From Sept. 12- Sept. 25, the district fell in the green region. This means there was low absenteeism, and it didn’t affect instructional needs. 

These three factors combined determined that the district was in the yellow region overall. 

“With the county stuff coming down…it said we are moving into yellow,” Matt Hirsch, Superintendent, said. “That’s going to help open the door potentially to the school board looking at bringing more kids back.” (USD 450 Board Meeting).

Concerns over bringing students back stem from following state recommendations. 

Guidelines from the Kansas State Department of Education recommend reducing class sizes as needed and increasing the spacing between students. It is also encouraged to avoid the sharing of materials. 

“We’ve always wanted to get the students back in as much as possible. I think that’s the best for learning is to have you guys all in the buildings. The question is can we do it safely?” Hirsch said. “You know, it’s just hard to get everybody in the building and social distance.”

Tammy Beaver is the Health Nurse Supervisor, and she plays a large role in monitoring COVID-19 in the district and the safety of students. This includes working with the health department to follow up with any staff or student who has tested positive, contacting close contacts to a positive case, and recording information on who is in isolation or quarantine. 

“I think the safest thing is to follow the guidance of the Health Department and pay attention to what is going on in the community. Our school community is a smaller part of the county community, if cases start increasing in the county, that will spill over to our school. The mitigation strategies of social distancing, mask wearing, and washing our hands are the best things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe,” Beaver said. 

In the event that the school board does vote to bring kids back to full on-site learning, it would begin in the elementary schools. Classrooms would possibly be able to stay in cohort groups, so while children are not social distancing from their immediate classmates, they are social distancing from other cohorts. Teachers from the elementary schools were surveyed for their opinion on bringing students back full time. 61.6% of all elementary building staff did not feel comfortable bringing students back full time. 

Ideas on how to bring middle and high school students back are still being generated. A cohort scenario would not be feasible for secondary schools.  

“That’s really hard to do at a high school or middle school because you guys all change classes and do stuff with that. There’s some ideas out there but they violate that social distancing rule, especially in the classroom itself. It’s just a lot of logistics when you’ve got almost 1,200 kids in a high school trying to get it all accomplished,” Hirsch said.