Students, parents call for face-to-face classes at K-12 schools in demonstration at De Soto High School

The USD 232 school district in De Soto will now allow up to two spectators from the same household for each student/athlete at district events for sports and activities. Above, students gathered for a socially distanced protest in July, supporting the reopening of schools for in-person classes. File photo.

About two dozen USD 232 students and their parents gathered on Friday for a socially distanced protest on the De Soto High School football field in support of schools reopening for face-to-face classes.

“We want the opening of schools because we believe that it’s safe as long as we take the correct precautions to get there,” soon-to-be senior at De Soto High School Kyle Smith said.

For Kylee Collins, another rising senior, the desire to go back to school has to do with mental health.

“Having school [not] in-person takes a huge toll on mental health,” Collins said. “I think it’s really important for students to be together in a classroom because being by yourself in your house working on difficult problems, it can just damage your mental health and I think it’s really important to have people around you.”

Kelly Smith has three children enrolled in USD 232 schools. She said she hopes the schools will open for in-person classes for the sake of her soon-to-be senior twin sons and her daughter who will start middle school in the fall.

Brent Smith, Kyle’s twin brother, said the protest grew out of a group they formed in the spring called the Student Coronavirus Response Coalition that tried to get the voices of K-12 students involved in the conversations circulating about reopening public education.

USD 232 has pushed back the start of school until after Labor Day, but has yet to announce what classes might look like. Further decisions are expected to be made at the Aug. 3 school board meeting.

Brent said he hopes the district will listen to the students.

“We’re just trying to make sure now that when our district discusses on Monday whether we’re gonna go to school in-person or online that they hear that we do want to go in-person,” he said.

Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Sanmi Areola, PhD, said that if the current local COVID-19 situation persists, it would be unsafe to start education in-person.

“Collectively as a society, we have a responsibility to reduce infection rates and break the transmission cycle in Johnson County,” Areola said, during a Facebook Live town hall Thursday. “We cannot open schools if we are getting 100 [new] cases a day, we cannot open schools at a 9% [positivity] rate — we need to bring that down.”

Kyle has a recommendation for others who want to be back to in-person classes — be responsible. If you’re going to go out, wear a mask and stay socially distanced from others.

The current rate of positivity, based off of the JCDHE gating criteria guidance, would require schools with middle school and high school students to open using a hybrid between in-person and remote instruction.

“Hybrid learning would be better than not going to school [in-person] at all, but for the majority students, I don’t think there are risks if they’re going to [have a] normal school day,” Brent said.

Both Smith brothers acknowledged that some precautions would be necessary for face-to-face classes, like wearing masks and social distancing. Kyle said it will also be important to “protect those at risk” in the student body and faculty by allowing them to make their own choices about what is best for themselves.

“If you’re healthy and your family’s healthy, and I think they should be allowed to make the decision to go to school if they want to,” Brent said.