Here’s what the first day of school looked like in Shawnee Mission — with 27,000 kids learning from home

A sign outside Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village on the first day of the 2020-21 school year. Photo via Principal Steve Yeoman's Twitter account.

Safe to say it was a first day of school unlike any other in Shawnee Mission Tuesday.

SMSD’s roughly 27,000 students are starting the 2020-21 academic year all learning remotely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, giving Tuesday a somewhat surreal feeling.

Many SMSD teachers actually came to their schools to teach virtually, sitting in front of their computers in empty classrooms introducing themselves to students online. Students, in turn, sat at home in makeshift work spaces in corners of family living rooms, in attic lofts or in their own bedrooms, trying to learn and get to know classmates.

Parents watched the massive experiment in distance learning unfold with a mixture of awe, trepidation and, in some cases, not a little bit of alarm. The district’s decision to start all-remote has angered some parents, who accuse SMSD of not following recommendations from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, especially when it comes to elementary students potentially being able to learn in-person.

SMSD is the only public school district in Johnson County starting with all students learning from home. District leaders have defended their decision as the most prudent option as COVID-19 trends in the county — including, new cases and percent positive test rates — continue to teeter in the wrong direction.

It remains unclear when exactly any SMSD students will return to in-person learning or when student sports and activities — suspended since late August — might resume, though a lawsuit filed by five high school golfers is challenging that, at least in a limited way. But one thing remains certain: this school year will continue to change our definitions of what it looks like to learn and “go to school.”

Here are some images of the first day of school in SMSD, as seen on Twitter or provided to the Shawnee Mission Post.