With school closure ordered, JoCo districts working to address continued learning, food insecurity, childcare

All roughly 27,000 Shawnee Mission Schools students will begin the 2020-21 academic learning remotely.

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making all coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a local news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).

The superintendents of Johnson County’s six public school districts are collaborating with each other as well as county and state officials to address a series of issues posed by the decision to temporarily close schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a joint press conference with Johnson County Public Health Officer Joseph LeMaster, MD, and County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson on Tuesday morning, Olathe Public Schools Superintendent John Allison — speaking on behalf of all of the districts — said work was underway to address:

  • the need to provide continued learning opportunities to student even with buildings closed
  • the need to deliver meals to students who live in food insecure households and rely on school-based breakfast and lunch programs for nutrition
  • childcare for families with working parents.

Allison noted that the Kansas State Department of Education has yet to formally grant a waiver to the districts for the lost classroom time that will result from the order to close schools through at least April 3, which was issued by LeMaster on Monday. Without a waiver, the districts would be required by statute to make up lost instructional time.

However, he said, he believed the education commissioner’s office would be working with districts on waiver applications in the coming days and weeks.

“The exact process and what that waiver and timeline looks like is still underdevelopment,” Allison said.

Online learning opportunities won’t be as easy to execute as they may seem

Allison addressed questions about the potential to use district-issued laptops and tablets to facilitate instructional opportunities for students while buildings are closed, saying that there are a number of hurdles toward executing virtual learning.

“Having the potential to do virtual education K-12 is not going to be available to most school districts,” Allison said, noting that with varying levels of internet access, it was difficult to develop equitable programs.

“[There are a] number of our students that don’t have internet access at home…our teachers may not have internet access at home,” Allison said. “So it sounds great to talk about well, we’ll just flip to a virtual school format, [but] the logistics, the practicality and how you do that is not something that school districts are really set up to be able to do.”

Health officer says he’ll reevaluate need to keep buildings closed as April 3 nears

The initial order to close schools runs through April 3, a Friday — but a message from the Shawnee Mission School District to parents on Monday indicated that the district was planning on contingencies for how to respond “if the closure extends beyond April 3.”

LeMaster indicated that he will continue to evaluate the need to keep school buildings closed taking into account the input and advice of institutions throughout the region.

“When we get to the point where this temporary period of closure has completed, we’ll reassess what the situation is then, and take advice both from the school superintendent, from KDHE and all of our other community partners,” Lemaster said. “We’re trying as best that we can, with some limitations, to move in concert with all of our partners, including those on the Missouri side and in Wyandotte County as much as possible.”