SMSD approves sports and activities, elementary in-person learning

The district school board announced a return to fall sports and extracurriculars, as well as changes to the reopening plan at the elementary level in a board meeting Sept. 9


Elizabeth Kuffour, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The district held a special board meeting at 4 p.m. on Sept. 9 at the Center for Academic Achievement (CAA) to update SMSD families on changes in the learning plan and new policies for athletics and activities. The meeting was held in-person, with masks required, limited seating and social distancing implemented.

Superintendent Mike Fulton began the meeting with a summary of a letter sent out to elementary school families today. He explained that the district will be changing the implementation of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) gating criteria used for the reopening of elementary schools across the district.

Pre-K through second grade students on the in-person learning plan will begin returning to school in a hybrid model starting the week of Oct. 5. Third through sixth graders will join them in a hybrid model starting the following week, Oct. 12. The week of October 19, all elementary students will begin a fully in-person learning model.

Middle and high school students will continue to learn remotely until Johnson County COVID-19 data reflects that of the yellow zone of the SMSD gating criteria — less than ten percent positive cases and a 14-day decrease or plateau in case numbers. Should that criteria be met, secondary students will transition to a hybrid model.

The next item on the agenda was the discussion of athletics and activities. Fulton shared a message he received from Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the JCDHE, in which he approved SMSD proceeding with all sports and extracurricular activities this fall, seeing as safety procedures were implemented and upheld.

Fulton then turned the floor over to Director of Athletics and Activities Richard Kramer, who gave a presentation on how the district will implement guidelines to keep students safe when returning to sports and extracurriculars. He shared the district’s “13 Points of Best Practice,” which include policies such as individual transportation to events, no sharing of water bottles, six-foot social distancing when appropriate and masks required when in the building and when within six feet of another person. Athletes are not required to wear a mask during high intensity activity, but are allowed if they so choose. At games, each student participating in the event (players, band, spirit groups such as cheer and dance, etc.) will receive a set number of tickets to give to immediate family members. There will be no student section. He also shared the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) “Activity-Specific Risk Mitigation Considerations,” a 36-page document with detailed guidelines for practices and games for each sport.

Performing Arts Coordinator Bill Thomas then outlined the guidelines for performing arts in the district. Orchestra and theatre may rehearse in unaltered schedules, while band and choir will rehearse for 30 minutes at a time with ten minute breaks in between to allow the air to clear. HEPA Air Scrubbers have been installed in all secondary band and choir classrooms. The district has also purchased bell covers for all wind instruments and puppy pads for brass instruments to empty spit valves. SMSD has postponed all area music festivals this fall, but plans to livestream concerts later on in the year.

Several board members cited concerns with students following risk mitigation protocol during the question period, and reiterated the importance of strictly following the district’s guidelines in order to keep the ability to engage in sports and activities throughout the year and work towards the ultimate goal of returning to school in-person.

The board ultimately voted 5-2 to approve the continuation of fall sports and activities, with Northwest Area Representative Jamie Borgman, East Area Representative Mary Sinclair, North Area Representative Sara Goodburn, West Area Representative Laura Guy, and At-Large Member Brad Stratton voting aye, and Board President Heather Ousley and South Area Representative Jessica Hembree voting nay.