KCPS opt into distance learning, delay start date

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) will be delayed until Sept. 8 following a recommendation from Superintendent Mark Bedell.

“The decision to reopen our school buildings for in-person classes will be based on data and science,” Dr. Bedell said. “We will work closely with public health officials before re-opening any of our school buildings. This process will not follow any predetermined timeline but will rather evolve based on the status of the pandemic in our community. Our response will balance the need to protect public health and provide a public education.”

Classes will begin in Phase I with 100% distance learning. Once Kansas City has seen a consistent decline in COVID-19 cases for 14 days, the district will collaborate with the health department to move to Phase II, which is pre-kindergarten through third grade in person.

KCPS released plans for when students and staff return to the buildings. The plan includes scanning temperatures for everyone entering a building with digital temperature tablets that the district purchased to install at entrances. Those with temperatures over 100 degrees will not be allowed entry. Each building will have a designated space to support those students who will need to go home.

Phase III brings back grades four through eight for hybrid learning, and Phase IV will add grades nine through twelve.

Throughout the buildings, there will be signage in hallways and common spaces directing traffic, encouraging social distancing. Dividers will be set up where appropriate.

The district will once again determine if Kansas City has seen a consistent decline in COVID-19 cases for 14 days before advancing to Phase V, 100% in-person classes. Classes will ending on June 10, 2021.

KCPS shared positives that came out of distance learning in the spring and summer, including pre-recording lessons allowed teachers to focus on virtual meeting time with students, weekly assignments allowing flexibility in students’ work pace, communication and availability of teachers for parent questions and flexibility for teachers based on students’ needs.

Opportunities for growth going into the fall semester will include providing devices on a 1:1 basis, rather than a 1 per family basis. Grading expectations will be made explicitly clear, and the district will work to meet the language needs of all families.

The Department of Family and Community Engagement will help parents get up to speed on technology applications and meeting sites. Parents requested more consistent virtual meeting times, more one-on-one time with teachers and condensing everything to one platform.

Teachers are already undergoing professional development on distance learning to prepare for this new format, as well as attending a Virtual Teacher Institute in August.

KCPS has to main priorities when planning what the future will look like: students and staff.

“Student learning will remain a priority and will not be compromised in either of our academic options,” according to the KCPS Core Values statement. “The safety of students and staff will be foundational in all key decisions.”

Last week, Kansas City saw its highest rate of new infection, highest number of deaths, and an increase in hospitalizations.

Mayor Quinton Lucas and Department of Health Director Dr. Rex Archer held a press conference Monday sharing the same recommendation.

“We have no interest in seeing schools delayed significantly, we have no interest in seeing educational opportunities for our children limited,” Lucas said, prefacing the city’s reccomendations.

The first recommendation is that schools start after Labor Day, Tues., Sept. 8, following suit with the executive order in Kansas.

Lucas said the risk of infection increases by age, which should be considered when planning the return to school facilities. While virtual learning and social distancing should be implemented in higher grades, classrooms for younger children may look closer to normal.

“We are asking all of our county partners – that would be Platte County, Jackson County, Cass County, and fortunately our friends in Clay County have already provided funding – we’re asking our county partners to provide further funding to their schools to further facilitate their reopening,” Lucas said.

There is no broad plan to close school buildings if it can be avoided, Lucas said. If there is a localized spread, it will be handled by classroom or building first.

Youth sports tournaments have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the state, and Lucas recommended large tournaments or youth activities to postpone events or cut down on size until Labor Day. He added that schools should plan events outdoors when possible, including sports practices.

Health Department Director Dr. Rex Archer said he initially did not support closing schools in the spring, but the stay at home order made a huge difference.

“Over the last 10 days of this month versus the first 10 days of this month, we’ve seen a substantial increase in folks under 19 having this disease, and that’s the big concern,” Archer said. 

Archer said every school district needs to prepare to have virtual capacity for students because there is potential for individuals, classrooms or buildings to be quarantined.

Lucas said contact tracing and testing will be crucial if a student or teacher tests positive. The Health Department is currently hiring additional staff.

Two pieces of hope are compliance with the mask mandate and the trend of adults spreading to children, not from children to adults or between children, Archer said.

Lucas recognized how challenging this moment is for working parents or those with other obligations. Lucas noted that under the current executive order, day care facilities are allowed to operate. He asked Kansas City employers to continue to be understanding and allow greater family medical leave or work from home opportunities.

“Teachers and staff have families themselves, they have families sometimes at risk, and it’s all we can do to make sure they stay safe,” Lucas said. “I think this is a step that allows us to do so.”

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