Shawnee Mission will push start of school year to after Labor Day — but whether in-person or fully remote undecided

Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Mike Fulton announced that the district won't convene for the fall semester until after Labor Day. Video still credit Shawnee Mission School District.

The Shawnee Mission School District will not begin instruction for the fall 2020-21 semester until after Labor Day in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the community. But whether any in-person classes will be offered at the outset and what day specifically the semester will begin are still undecided.

The announcement from Superintendent Mike Fulton at a four-hour special board of education meeting Monday came just hours after the Kansas State Board of Education voted to reject Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order that would have pushed the start of the school year to after Labor Day for every district in the state.

Fulton said the administration will present its proposed first day to the start of the school year at the regularly scheduled board of education meeting next Monday, July 27. That meeting will also include additional detail about how the district will administer the three learning options available to district families for the 2020-21 school year:

  • Remote only
  • Hybrid, with some in-person instruction and some remote instruction
  • On-site

But district officials noted that they must take current local conditions into account when deciding if and when any in-person instruction can begin.

Shelby Rebeck, MSN, the district’s health services coordinator, said Johnson County’s growing case load poses major challenges to schools’ ability to provide a safe in-person learning and work environment. She noted that the proposed criteria from the Centers for Disease Control for a phased opening of schools includes a downward trajectory of documented cases over a 14-day period. Johnson County has seen its total number of documented cases increasing for several weeks. Rebeck categorized the case trajectory for June and July as “abysmal.”

District officials stressed that community adherence to face mask and social distancing guidance will be crucial to their ability to safely reopen schools to in-person instruction.

“We are currently not doing well in Johnson County,” Rebeck said.

Board of Education President Heather Ousley expressed concern that without in-person contact with teachers and other staff, vulnerable students who may be experiencing abuse at home will not have access to mandatory reporters who could trigger an intervention. But, she said, the district cannot provide a safe in-person learning environment for students or staff without improvements in the case load trajectory.

“I want to be very clear that if we were making this decision today, we would be online completely. So right now, the choice for our community is what decisions do we want to make as a community to create an opportunity to see kiddos in person and to see how they’re doing,” Ousley said.

The board of education for neighboring Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools on Tuesday voted to conduct the first nine weeks of its school year completely online in response to the growing number of positive COVID-19 tests in Wyandotte County.

Several of the Shawnee Mission administrators, staff and elected officials who spoke at Monday’s meeting encouraged members of the community to redouble efforts to stop the spread of the virus. These steps include:

  • Wearing a mask in public
  • Maintaining social distancing of six feet or more
  • Avoiding large gatherings of people
  • Staying home when possible