USD 232 delays start of school to Sept. 8

Citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the USD 232 school district has delayed the start of school from Aug. 13 to Sept. 8. File photo.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the USD 232 school district has delayed the start of school to Sept. 8.

In a special meeting conducted virtually Monday evening, the USD 232 Board of Education unanimously approved the adjustment to the 2020-21 school calendar year. The original start date was Aug. 13.

Neighboring school districts have made similar moves. The Shawnee Mission School District last week pushed its start date to after Labor Day. Blue Valley Schools delayed its start date to Sept. 9, while Olathe Public Schools begin Sept. 8. The Spring Hill Board of Education voted to delay school from Aug. 13 to Aug. 26.

Superintendent Frank Harwood cited multiple reasons for the recommendation to delay the start of school, primarily because of the “current level of spread of COVID-19 in the Johnson County area.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Laura Kelly announced her plans to require school districts statewide to delay the start of school until after Labor Day. While the Kansas Board of Education rejected that delay, individual school districts are allowed to adjust their academic calendars as they see fit.

Harwood said the three-week delay allows faculty and staff additional time to prepare for new protocols for the school day, such as social distancing measures, face mask requirements (per state and county orders), hand washing and sanitizing of school buildings. Click here for more information on the learning guidelines.

The school district is also still waiting for supplies to arrive, some which were ordered months ago, Harwood added. Plus, school administrators are still developing the optional remote learning program for the coming school year.

Superintendent Frank Harwood said the three-week delay allows faculty and staff additional time to prepare for new protocols for the school day, such as social distancing measures, face mask requirements, hand washing and sanitizing of school buildings. File photo

School board members said they support the delay and swift action that allows faculty and administrators additional time they need to prepare.

“This topic is of high concern for our community, and I think tonight’s vote is one step forward to easing the minds of our staff and parents, but we definitely need to make the next step in making a decision as to how we are going to return,” said Stephanie Makalous, school board member. “Not everyone is going to be happy no matter what decision we make. We’re in a no-win situation for everyone, as we have read over and over, but I want us to make this decision quickly so that everyone’s mind can be put at ease and that we can have a plan and move forward.”

Based on results from a survey from USD 232 families earlier this month, school administrators expect they will have to reschedule between 1,500 and 2,500 students’ schedules, Harwood noted. Of the 3,797 responses the district received, about 847 or 22% said they would like to participate in optional remote learning, and 736 or 20% said they were still unsure.

As a result, Harwood said administrators expect they will have to adjust scheduling for every grade and every class in all 12 district buildings to ensure teachers are available for both remote and in-person learning.

In a typical school year, class schedules begin forming halfway through the school year and wrap up mid-summer. In this case, the new schedules must be set in a few weeks.

USD 232 covers De Soto and portions of Shawnee, Lenexa and Olathe. Roughly 775 devices were viewing the YouTube livestream of the Monday meeting.

Harwood said school districts in Johnson County are seeking feedback from public health departments as to what data is appropriate to use in determining which learning environments fit the evolving COVID-19 situation.

The adjusted 2020-21 calendar year, which the board will consider for approval next week, allows more time for professional development before the start of school. The schedule could impact vacation days around spring break or Memorial Day weekend in 2021.

Regardless of the adjusted schedule, Harwood said the district is not planning to lengthen the school day to make up any lost time in the classroom.

The school board will discuss the school calendar and related items Aug. 3.