After parent pushback, Shawnee Mission will allow elementary students to adjust learning plans at semester

SMSD Superintendent Mike Fulton addressing parents in a video posted to YouTube. Photo credit screen shot SMSD YouTube channel.

On Friday, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton announced that families of elementary school students will be able to adjust their preferred learning options at semester. That came after parents voiced concerns about having to pick an option for the entire school year.

Why it matters: Last week, Fulton unveiled the district’s plan to begin returning some elementary students to school for in-person learning, which could start as soon as Oct. 5. As part of that plan, the district asked parents of elementary students to take a new survey, picking their preference between their children learning totally remotely or learning in a hybrid model, with time divided between school and home.

Unlike in a previous survey, parents were told their responses for this new survey would determine their children’s learning mode for the entire 2020-21 academic year. And they were given four days to fill the survey out.

What was said: In a brief video posted to SMSD’s YouTube channel Friday, Fulton said a number of parents had voiced their concerns about having to choose a learning mode that would determine their children’s path for the entire school year.

  • “A number of parents told us they made their initial learning selection [in a previous survey] specifically because the district told them they would have the opportunity to change it at the semester break. We hear you and recognize that allowing a new selection is a commitment we need to keep.”

  • “Before the end of the calendar year, parents of elementary students will have the opportunity to change their learning selection for the second semester of the school year.”

  • “We will make every attempt to accommodate parent preferences … but depending on the volume of requests, some students may not be placed in their home building. If that happens, parents will be responsible for student transport.”

The bigger picture: SMSD has been at the center of a heated debate over school reopening amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It remains the only public school district in Johnson County that currently has all of its students learning remotely. (A plan which appears to be in place for at least the rest of September.) Parents and students have urged district leaders and the board of education to relax reopening restrictions to be more in line with neighboring districts like Blue Valley and USD 232 in De Soto, which are allowing some students back for in-person learning.

What about older kids? The district’s about-face over parent surveys only affects elementary students and their families. Students in middle and high school are still set to learn remotely for the time being, with no indication of when that may end. However, last week, the SMSD Board of Education voted to resume high school sports and activities.

Go deeper: Shawnee Mission board approves restarting high school sports, district unveils plan to bring elementary students back for in-person learning