KCPS board discusses reopening options

The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors held a special meeting on Wed., July 15 to discuss reopening plans, among other issues.

While the district has not made a decision on the logistics of the upcoming school year, plans are being developed for both best- and worst-case scenarios.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell presented three options for the upcoming school year to the board and those listening, making clear that these plans are still in the development stage and nothing has been made official.

He said while a number of families have shown interest in coming back to school, some faculty and staff have expressed concerns.

“All of our jobs, first and foremost is that we’re here to provide a service, to ensure that we’re helping our students develop and grow socially, emotionally and academically,” Bedell said. “But on that same line is also making sure that we have a healthy workforce, a workforce that will be available to deliver on helping us meet those ends.”

During distance learning through the end of the spring semester, the district was able to make contact with only about 55% of students.

“While our teachers have received a tremendous amount of training and feel more comfortable on virtual platforms, with a distance learning platform, we know that there’s a number of students that have fallen even further behind,” Bedell said.

The district is attempting to find the best case scenario for students, keeping in mind that some parents may not be in a situation to support 100% virtual learning.

The first is a full return to the classroom, but as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it brings concern.

“There’s no way, in my opinion, that you’re going to be able to run school with 100% of the students in there,” Bedell said. “It’s just not possible to practice social distancing and I don’t think that’s fair to our faculty and staff to tell them that you have to be in the classrooms with 30 kids in there at a time.”

In some of the schools, social distancing wouldn’t even be physically possible with layout and capacity issues. Bedell said the district is going to need support from the community, especially parents who are able to keep their students home and successfully support distance learning.

Offering a virtual platform would allow students and teachers to do what they are most comfortable with from both a health and learning standpoint.

“As we think about the number of people who will opt into the virtual platform, we’re able to then make sure teachers are trained and ready to move forward with delivering instruction in that manner,” Bedell said.

However, if the district does not get enough support from families opting into virtual learning it will force the school district to move to a hybrid schedule, cutting capacity to 50% to comply with Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. The district is prepared to make sure all safety measures are in place in terms of face shields, face masks, gloves, the cleaning that needs to be done.

“As we continue to work with the health department, if we are in a situation where we have to move to 100% distance learning, the district will look to do that, but I think for us, and for the sake of our community, we have to figure out how we find a happy medium that takes care of our teachers, also takes care of our students.”

Bedell said it all depends on parents who have the ability to opt their students into online learning, or driving them to school as an alternative to the school busses.

A forthcoming district communication will have thorough information available when it is released on Monday, July 20, although it will be a “living document.”

The school district closed on March 13 after an Executive Order was handed down from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Laptops, wifi hotspots and meals were distributed to students as needed.

Concerns were raised about technology resources for students who do not have access at home. The district is working to maintain a 1:1 ratio for students and internet capable devices. After a previous contract was cancelled due to availability of parts, the board accepted a new contract with Worldwide Technology for the devices.

At the July 15 meeting, the board accepted a new math curriculum by McGraw Hill that has many online resources, including monitoring academic honesty on digital resources. The curriculum will be paid for out of CARES Act funds, and a gradual release of the new material will allow for professional development and training for instructors.

The Board of Directors approved lending its facilities as polling places for the upcoming election. If school is taking place in the building, the students will have the day off. In the past, the district has helped register students to vote.

“What we want to do is to make sure that our students understand that it’s important that as they are registered that they do vote,” Bedell said. “The school district is creating those conditions so that they can do that.”
Bedell said it also creates conditions so faculty and staff hopefully won’t have to wait in extensive lines, and the community can avoid a situation where there’s limited polling locations and people are prevented from voting. He said it also provides employees the opportunity to work at the polls or vote in the district where they live since they won’t have to report to their schools.

The meeting was held via videoconference, but technical difficulties prevented the public from viewing the live-streamed meeting. A working conference line was shared after the meeting had begun. 

The next regular meeting of the Board of Directors is July 22, 2020.

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