Shawnee Mission School District temporarily suspends high school activities as COVID-19 trends remain ‘concerning’

Four SM East golfers are among the students suing SMSD and Blue Valley Schools over the decisions to suspend fall sports. File photo. 

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The Shawnee Mission School District will suspend all conditioning and training activities for fall sports for two weeks, starting Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The move comes as the number of new positive cases of COVID-19 in Johnson County continues to be reported at rates higher than the threshold county health officials recommend be met before schools fully reopen.

The district’s Communications Director David Smith said the halt in summer activities —including for performing arts, like marching band — is meant to help ensure fall sports and activity seasons “get started on time.”

“We’re hopeful the greater community will do what it needs to do to flatten the curve,” Smith said. “This is to see if we can ensure a strong start to the season with everyone healthy, as long as students practice safe social distancing between now and then.”

The suspension in activities is in place until Monday, Aug. 17, the official start date for fall high school sports and student activities statewide in Kansas. Last month, the executive board of the Kansas State High School Activities Association rejected a proposal to delay the start of fall activities.

Shawnee Mission is encouraging students who had been participating in summer workouts and activities to “continue mitigation practices, including avoiding social gatherings” for the duration of the suspension, in order to help ensure fall sports seasons start on time.

A district statement also encouraged students to continue to wear face masks, practice safe social distancing and wash their hands. Smith said district officials will evaluate conditions again before resuming activities later this month.

“Our plan right now is to go ahead in two weeks,” Smith said. “Of course, we’ll have to see where the county is at at that time. You see case numbers rising [countywide], and that is concerning.”

Smith said the suspension of summer workouts was not the result of any new outbreaks among students or staff who have been gathering for summer activities. In late June and early July, more than a dozen student-athletes at Shawnee Mission East High School who had been participating in summer workouts tested positive for COVID-19, prompting another temporary suspension of workouts.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s online COVID-19 data dashboard shows the rate of new positive tests has been around 10% for much of the past two weeks, which is well above the threshold of 5% for at least 14 consecutive days that county health officials recommend be established before in-person classes start in area schools.

Like many Kansas City-area school districts, Shawnee Mission has already pushed back the start of classes to after Labor Day. The district has yet to announce whether it will begin classes in person, remotely or attempt a hybrid form of instruction that combines the two.

At a board meeting in July, district officials said they planned to ask parents to choose an in-person or fully remote learning model for individual students for the fall semester. But they also said  they had not yet been given final “gating criteria” from the county health department on when and how in-person instruction would be permitted.