SMSD News: Protecting students, staff and families as we prepare for the start of school

This week, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) informed Johnson County school districts that after Labor Day, the county would be in the red gating zone. For the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD), this means that all students will begin the school year learning remotely. We have made this decision in order to do everything possible to keep students, staff, and their families safe and healthy.

“The spread of the virus is still increasing in Johnson County,” according to county health director Sanmi Areola. “Unfortunately, we have not met the threshold in the school gating criteria for a safe return to in-person learning, even for a hybrid model.”

Here in SMSD, we desperately miss our students, and look forward to seeing them again. At the same time, starting remotely is in the best interest of both students and staff. It is our intent that as county data improves, we can begin a thoughtful transition to in-person learning, beginning with the hybrid model, where elementary students attend school in-person twice a week. Beginning a future transition to in-person learning using the hybrid model gives our students and staff the best opportunity to learn how to manage learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in a safe manner. The ultimate goal is to eventually transition to full in-person learning for all students, as county health conditions allow.

The county’s guidance on how to determine when it is safe to bring students back to class includes several reopening phases based on key metrics, including the positivity rate — which is the average percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over a 14-day period — and the number of new cases. JCDHE will continue to monitor data to determine when it is safe to allow more students back in classrooms. We will meet with JCDHE again on September 22, 2020, and are hopeful that we will receive better news about COVID-19 conditions in Johnson County.

Meanwhile, throughout the spring and summer, we have been working hard to prepare to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year. Beginning remotely is certainly not the outcome that any of us hoped for when we began planning. Still, we remain grateful to the countless ways our community has worked to persevere through the challenges we face.

We’ve seen tremendous resiliency and creativity in the development of reopening plans and new learning models. Our staff members are dedicating time to develop new skills for teaching both in-person and remotely, through professional development, personal study, and collaboration. Numerous individuals have helped meet the basic needs of students by serving thousands of meals to children who need them. We’ve seen community volunteers perform music and donate books and other resources to support our students and families.

We see our community’s strength in every act of compassion, care, and connection in support of our students and staff. We are truly #SMSDStrong.

We miss our students and can’t wait to be back together with them. The steps we take as a community to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will make that possible.

We will continue working to ensure that each student has a personalized learning plan that prepares them for college and careers, with the interpersonal skills they need for life success.