Shawnee Mission board member urges against ‘rigid positions’ in deliberation about reopening schools

"We want our students to be learning in an environment that is safe for them, their families, and their teachers," said SM South representative Jessica Hembree. File photo.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City metro is on the rise. And the number of days before the start of the 2020-21 school year is shrinking.

It’s the latest local hurdle to contend with in a global pandemic that has upended normalcy in practically every aspect of life in Shawnee Mission and beyond. But as school district leaders work to create plans to instruct students this fall — and contingencies that assume a high likelihood of the situation changing and perhaps changing again — one elected leader is asking members of the community to avoid locking in to a polarized position on whether buildings should open or not.

In a message posted on her Facebook page Wednesday, board member Jessica Hembree, who represents the SM South area, said that entrenched positions and all-or-nothing thinking won’t help the community navigate this challenge.

Here’s the message:

I’m concerned that I see a lot of polarized language and rigid positions about the possibility of opening schools this Fall. I’m seeing this on both sides of the coin: parents insisting that their kids go back to school “no matter what” and others suggesting that a return to school is a “death sentence.”

I’d like us all to take a moment and sit with the fact that this is a really complicated issue. There is a LOT of middle ground. In many respects, we all want the same things. We want our students to be learning in an environment that is safe for them, their families, and their teachers.

We are making these decisions in a tricky environment with constantly changing science, lots of anxiety about individual health, economic impacts of prolonged closures, real concerns about mental health, disparate impacts across student groups. The list goes on and on.

I don’t have answers, but I know that retreating into camps and stoking flames of division is not the answer. My work experience has been in public health and I keep coming back to the fundamental tenet of public health: “Use approaches that have the biggest impact with the least disruption.” We need good data, sound science, and lots of productive problem-solving to do this.

Hang in there, folks.

Superintendent Mike Fulton and Associate Superintendent of Leadership and Learning Michelle Hubbard this week shared an overview of work being done to plan for in-person, remote and hybrid approaches to instruction is fall as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 persist.