Classroom ‘gating criteria’ still unknown as Shawnee Mission families face decision about in-person vs. remote learning models

Superintendent Mike Fulton said the district has been fielding many questions about what the first day of school will look like. The district is waiting on "gating criteria" guidance from county health officials before making a decision, he said. Video still via Shawnee Mission School District.

The Shawnee Mission School District will ask parents this week to choose an in-person or fully remote learning model for individual students for the fall semester. But district officials don’t yet have the final “gating criteria” from the county health department on when and how in-person instruction would be permitted.

At a board of education meeting Monday, Superintendent Mike Fulton said that administrators were waiting on guidance from county public health officials before they could make a determination about what class might look like on day one for students who choose the in-person option. If COVID-19 spread in community continues to increase, it’s possible that even families who choose the in-person option would begin the school year with fully remote learning. And, administrations continued to stress, instruction may change between in-person, hybrid and fully remote delivery at any point in the semester as COVID-19 circumstances change.

“The number one question on everyone’s mind is what happens the first day of school,” Fulton said. “Are we going to be in class? Are we going to be remote? Are we going to be hybrid? What does that look like? And I just want to emphasize that we’ve made a commitment to making sure that we’re basing decisions on science. We’re waiting on guidance from the county health department.”

The fluidity of the situation has some families uneasy about committing to a learning model for their students.

During a public comment session held before the board meeting began, former board of education candidate Lisa Feingold, who has a student in the SM North feeder area, said she was concerned about locking her son into a learning model for the semester without knowing the specifics of what the gating criteria would be and how remote learning would be administered. She said she wished parents had the option to change learning models for their students after the semester has begun.

“Leadership has repeatedly asked the community for understanding, flexibility, patience and grace as they make way through these uncharted waters,” Feingold said. “I am now asking the district to reciprocate, to extend the same understanding, flexibility and grace to parents and students.”

Later in the meeting, Fulton noted that all students will be expected to meet standards and record attendance regardless of the learning model.

“This is going to look much more like school than perhaps what we were able to do last spring when we had to quickly build a remote learning model,” Fulton said.