Private schools across northern Johnson County focus on in-person learning whenever possible this fall

Johnson County is prioritizing teachers and licensed childcare providers during Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Above, a file photo of Maranatha Christian Academy elementary students in Shawnee. Photo courtesy Maranatha Christian Academy.

Many private schools across northern Johnson County are starting classes with a combination of in-person, virtual and hybrid learning over the next few weeks. The emphasis on in-person or hybrid learning across private schools stands in contrast with the Shawnee Mission School District, which is opting for remote learning for all students. Shawnee Mission administrators have indicated there are plans in the works for elementary students to return to in-person learning — that’s coming later this week.

School administrators at Pembroke Hill, Maranatha Christian Academy, The Barstow School and the Johnson County area elementary and high schools under the Archdiocese of Kansas City, all shared plans for mitigation measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 within their school buildings, as well as contingency plans for known positive cases.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City includes the following Catholic high schools: Bishop Miege in Roeland Park, St. James Academy in Lenexa and St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park. The Archdiocese includes the following Catholic elementary schools in northern Johnson County:

  • Cure of Ars in Leawood
  • Good Shepherd in Shawnee
  • Holy Cross in Overland Park
  • Holy Spirit in Overland Park
  • Holy Trinity in Lenexa
  • John Paul II in Overland Park
  • Sacred Heart of Jesus in Shawnee
  • St. Agnes in Roeland Park
  • St. Ann in Prairie Village
  • St. Joseph in Shawnee

What is the first day of classes for your school(s) this fall?

Catholic schools

Catholic elementary schools in northern Johnson County start classes Monday, Aug. 31.

Catholic high schools in northern Johnson County (Bishop Miege, St. James, St. Thomas Aquinas) will begin the fall semester Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Maranatha Christian Academy

Maranatha students were all back in session Aug. 12. 

Pembroke Hill

Pembroke started school on Monday, Aug. 24, with both in-person and virtual learning. Andrew Mouzin, communications specialist for Pembroke Hill, said the school has reduced class sizes “so that students and faculty could become familiar with the updated policies and procedures we are putting in place because of COVID-19.”

The Barstow School

The Barstow School started the fall semester Aug. 20. The school is located in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has released its “gating criteria” for schools, which are recommendations for reopening. Given that JCDHE says the county is still in the “red zone,” are you reopening in the next few weeks or have already reopened? If you are reopening — either fully or in some sort of hybrid mode — what is your plan for monitoring cases and the level of risk to in-person learning?

Pembroke Hill has set up hand sanitizing stations throughout the school buildings. Photo courtesy Pembroke Hill.

Catholic schools

Vince Cascone, superintendent, said the Catholic schools in northern Johnson County are utilizing gating criteria from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

Elementary schools will begin with in-person learning. 

High schools will begin with a hybrid learning environment. Some students will attend in person on some days while their classmates are remote, and then their schedules will rotate.

Maranatha Christian Academy

Maranatha’s reopening plan (released July 31) includes precautions and measures school administrators will take based on which level the school is on. 

“To be as careful as possible, we opened on our level 3 and have been on level 3 the entire time,” said Janet Fogh, head of school. The three levels are as follows:

  • Level 1: Standard Precautions, that would be used when there is low risk of infections
  • Level 2: Increased Precautions due to a combination of cases within the school and community, though at a low/small level 
  • Level 3: Heightened Precautions, due to a “medium number of outbreaks” in the school and community

Fogh said administrators are “actively teaching students, staff, and parents about the importance of being very compliant with our expectations and our staff and families are doing an excellent job being supportive.” 

“We have a plan for how we would handle situations if someone did become affected with COVID and we would follow our procedures,” Fogh said. “Thankfully, to date, we have not had any new cases of COVID since school began August 12th.”

Pembroke Hill

Pembroke Hill is located in Kansas City, Missouri, but has many students living in Johnson County. Mouzin said school administrators are “constantly monitoring what the JCDHE is doing along with the Kansas City Health Department and using their guidelines to inform our decisions.” 

Pembroke’s office of infection control is also monitoring the COVID-19 situation on campus and in the surrounding community and keeping staff abreast of any changes, Mouzin added.

The Barstow School

The Barstow School campus is open under a moderate alert (indicated by the yellow color code on the school’s website). Students in preK-12 grades are attending classes both in person and online.

The Barstow School’s reopening plan also indicates the school is emphasizing the importance of both in-person learning and also health and safety concerns within the school community. The plan is designed to include a “robust set of stringent health and safety measures” for in-person learning that can also be adapted during the course of the pandemic.

What, if any, new requirements will your school enforce as ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19? Are you requiring face masks at school? Will staff conduct daily health screenings and/or temperature checks of students and/or staff?

Private schools across northern Johnson County are requiring temperature checks and health screenings, like this one at Pembroke Hill. Photo courtesy Pembroke Hill.

Catholic schools

Cascone said students will adhere to social distancing guidelines. Everyone on campus is required to wear a mask, and cleaning/disinfecting regimens are in place.

Other requirements:

  • Temperature checks for students and staff before they enter the building
  • Placing students in cohorts — the same group of peers — throughout the day, with teachers moving among classrooms
  • Spacing apart desks in classrooms for social distancing
  • Hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the buildings
  • Daily cleaning regimens are in place (including disinfecting the air and ventilation systems) and may be contracted by companies; other protocols are in place for disinfecting if there’s a contamination

Maranatha Christian Academy

Maranatha requires daily health screenings and temperature checks for all staff, students, parents and visitors to the campus. 

Fogh said students and staff wear face masks every day at school, with the exception of during physical activities outside or while eating in the lunchroom, though in the lunchroom they are spaced out, socially distanced, and all facing the same direction to help prevent breathing into the face of others, or if they have a doctor’s note.  

“We have re-grouped numerous activities so grade levels can operate more as families and not have as much interaction between the grades during this time in order to limit exposure,” Fogh added.

Pembroke Hill

Mouzin said Pembroke Hill has put in place the following mitigation efforts to help keep students, faculty and staff healthy:

  • Having a staggered arrival and dismissal time
  • Taking temperatures
  • Requiring everyone on campus to wear masks
  • Installing plexiglass in our classrooms around the desks
  • Installing outdoor tents to provide additional outside classroom space
  • Providing personal protective equipment for faculty and staff
  • Implementing social distancing
  • Providing sanitization stations for each classroom
  • Enhancing cleaning and sanitation procedures
  • Installing ionization technology in our HVAC system

The Barstow School

The Barstow School’s reopening plan includes mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include enhanced health and safety measures such as plexiglass barriers, scanners for fever detection, personal protective equipment for employees, touchless water fountains and amplified cleaning practices.

Community expectations include:

  • Following federal, state and local orderings, including those related to wearing face masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures
  • COVID-19 testing and notification of the school nurse
  • Staying home if sick
  • Staying home if exposed
  • Avoiding unnecessary travel
  • Temperature checks
  • Wearing face masks on campus
  • Practicing frequent hand washing and good hygiene
  • Limiting the items a student brings onto campus every day
  • Submitting medical forms that include at least two emergency contacts for each student

What is your school’s contingency plan if there is an outbreak or positive cases in one of your school buildings?

Catholic schools

Cascone said the school administrators will be in touch with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, and would rely on the health department to offer guidance on what to do. 

Some of these protocols would include things like quarantining and pivoting to online learning should the need arise, Cascone added.

Maranatha Christian Academy

Students and staff are required to notify the principals or head of school that there has been a positive COVID-19 test within their family. Maranatha is using the Kansas Department of Education’s definition of close contact to determine if someone has been exposed to a positive case (within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes, or having been coughed or sneezed on).

Untested people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can only return once 10 days have passed since symptoms appeared and they have been fever-free for 72 hours without fever-reducing medication. Anyone waiting for test results must isolate at home, and asymptomatic individuals must quarantine at home for 10 days.

Those with known exposures must quarantine for 14 days. More details are on the academy’s website.

Pembroke Hill

Pembroke Hill’s reopening plan indicates that anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 are expected to isolate at home for 10 days after a positive test result, provided those individuals are fever-free for three days.

“With the assistance of medical consultants and our infection control office, we have developed protocols for if/when a student, faculty or staff member tests positive for COVID-19,” Mouzin said.

The Barstow School

Students and employees who have a COVID-19 infection are to report they have a positive case of the novel coronavirus to the school. School officials are to support health officials’ efforts to conduct contact tracing and enforcing quarantine of those infected and exposed.

What approaches does your school currently have for in-person learning during the pandemic? For remote learning? And for hybrid plans?

Private schools are focusing on in-person learning whenever possible, though desks are spaced apart, especially in higher grade levels. Photo courtesy Pembroke Hill.

Catholic schools

Cascone said school administrators have been “planning for a long period of time” the safety measures to return to in-person learning this fall.

“Our type priority when it comes to our Catholic schools is to be a support for the family,” Cascone said. “We think the best way we can support the family would be to offer as much as possible and as safely as possible, in-person learning. 

“We’ve seen a lot of things about the health concerns regarding COVID-19, but I think we also are taking very seriously the health concerns regarding mental health and the social aspect of it.”

Cascone said “a number of parents” from students in public schools have inquired in the past two weeks about enrolling in Catholic schools, primarily because they are offering in-person learning this fall. On the other hand, some Catholic parents have shared apprehension about returning to in-person learning and prefer virtual options for the immediate short-term.

Maranatha Christian Academy

Fogh said the academy’s plan is to do in-person learning. 

“That’s our desire and focus; we do have a plan for how to educate virtually for a period of time if needed and we’ve done extensive staff training on technology resources available to us should that be necessary,” Fogh said. “Because of the way we have things set up, hopefully if we had to do virtual learning for some period of time, it would only be with one class or grade level.” 

More details are on the academy’s website.

Pembroke Hill

Pembroke Hill offered families the opportunity to enroll in in-person classes or go completely virtual. Mouzin said Pembroke has about 8% of students participating in the virtual-only learning environment.

The Barstow School

Lisa Tulp, director of communications and marketing for the school, said The Barstow School is taking a flexible and self-directed approach to hybrid learning, in which students and families may decide on a daily basis whether they will learn on campus or at home.

Other details for reopening plans are on the school’s website.

What is your school district’s approach toward sports and other school activities right now?

Catholic schools

Catholic schools in northern Johnson County will continue with fall sports and school activities, provided there are proper safety measures, Casone said. This includes masks, social distancing and sanitization.

“If we can find a way to do it safely, we will certainly do it,” he added.

Maranatha Christian Academy

Maranatha is playing all sports this fall.  

Every practice and event begins with a health screening and temperature check, and masks are worn for part of practice times “when exertion is not strong,” Fogh said. 

Athletes don’t wear masks during heavier physical activity. Maranatha has dispensed of the typical hand slaps and handshaking before and after games. The school is limiting attendance at sporting events to 25% of the capacity of the event location, and also requiring masks, temperature checks, a health questionnaire and social distancing for all those who attend.

Pembroke Hill

Currently, all Pembroke Hill fall sports will be played.

The Barstow School

The Barstow School is offering extracurricular activities — including performing arts, student clubs and extended learning — online only for the time being. Physical education classes will be modified this fall, with limited use of locker room spaces.

The school reported that it is “currently working with the state’s athletic organization to determine the viability of fall sports.”