School board discusses 2020-21 District Learning Plan

The district school board discussed plans to reopen in a special board meeting July 22


Elizabeth Kuffour, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Last week, Gov. Laura Kelly announced she would be issuing an executive order to postpone the opening of all Kansas schools to after Labor Day, Sept. 7. The Kansas State Board of Education rejected the order on a 5-5 tie vote on Wednesday, leaving the decision up to individual school districts.

The district called a special board meeting, held at 6 p.m. on July 22 at the Center for Academic Achievement (CAA). Board members and spectators were seated six feet apart and were required to wear masks.

Superintendent Mike Fulton gave a presentation detailing the district’s guidelines for a safe learning environment for students and staff, stressing the importance of masks, social distancing, hand-washing, proper building ventilation and extensive scheduled cleaning of buildings.

Director of Health Services Shelby Rebeck then gave a presentation on Johnson County COVID-19 concerns. She noted that Johnson County currently has 4,158 cases, the most of any county in Kansas. She claimed that the district’s ability to send students and staff back to school is dependent on the community’s willingness to commit to mitigation measures such as properly wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and frequent disinfection.

“What is happening in our community will dictate what will happen in our schools,” Rebeck said. “Everyone needs to do their part to ensure we can have serious conversations about reopening.”

Fulton then outlined instructional procedures for the 2020-21 school year. Families will have the choice between two learning plans: in-person learning and remote (online-only) learning.

In the remote learning plan, students will each be assigned to a remote-only teacher, specially hired and licensed to teach exclusively online classes. Coursework will be released via Canvas Learning Management System (Canvas LMS). An administrator will oversee the entirety of the remote learning program across the district. In this plan, students are required to log 390 minutes of learning activity each day (the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) requires 360 minutes).

In the in-person plan, the district will utilize “gating criteria,” metrics to determine when it is safe to transition between various types of learning, to decide the style of instruction. In-person students will receive one of three instruction styles — on-site, hybrid and remote — at any given time. When the gating criteria indicates a spike in COVID-19 cases in Johnson County, all students on the in-person plan will transition to a more restrictive instruction style, and when there is a drop, they will transition to a less restrictive instruction style. When in-person students are operating on a remote learning style, they will receive coursework online through Canvas LMS and must log 390 minutes of activity per day. When using a hybrid learning style, students with last names A-L will attend school in-person Monday and Tuesday and receive remote instruction Wednesday and Thursday, while last names M-Z will receive remote instruction Monday and Tuesday and attend in-person Wednesday and Thursday. On Fridays, all students work remotely.  In a hybrid plan, siblings will all attend school on the schedule of the oldest student, even if their last names are different. When operating on an on-site instruction style, all students will attend school in-person full time, following guidelines to ensure a safe learning environment.

Families will choose between the in-person and remote learning plan at the beginning of each semester, and will not be able to change their plan until the start of the next semester. The district is planning on having families decide their learning plan in the next week to ten days, to allow time to develop a staffing model.

Health and safety guidelines for day-to-day in-person instruction are currently being developed. One of these guidelines is required mask-wearing for students and staff at and above the age of five. The district is waiting on further guidance from the state and county health departments to develop protocol on things such as daily temperature checks and isolation procedures if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.

The district has received roughly $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will be used on coronavirus-related expenses. With this funding, the district has ordered 200,000 masks (half are child-size, half are adult-size) and 5,000 reusable face shields to be distributed as necessary. They’ve also purchased a hand sanitizer dispenser for every classroom in the district, as well as additional dispensers to be placed in high traffic areas. Additionally, they’ve bought acrylic sneeze guards for food service cashiers.

The district is awaiting guidance from the Kansas State High Schools Activities Association (KSHSAA) to develop policies for sports, performing arts and activities for the rest of the summer and during the school year.

Though Gov. Kelly’s executive order to postpone school openings statewide failed, SMSD decided to still wait until Labor Day, Sept. 7, to begin the 2020-21 school year. Teachers will report several days earlier for professional development. An updated district calendar will be released at the next board meeting Monday, July 27.