USD 232 in De Soto records first positive COVID-19 case as it forms advisory committee to give board recommendations during pandemic

The USD 232 School District in De Soto will still have the final say when interpreting COVID-19 data trends and determining which learning environments — in-person, remote or hybrid — are most appropriate. But the school board plans to consider recommendations from a COVID Advisory Committee that district staff is still forming.

The USD 232 School District in De Soto will still have the final say when interpreting COVID-19 data trends and determining which learning environments — in-person, remote or hybrid — are most appropriate for students. But the school board plans to consider recommendations from a COVID Advisory Committee being formed by the district.

The district is also launching an online dashboard on Wednesday that will share data on positive cases and trends within USD 232 schools.

Why it matters: The USD 232 Board of Education on Aug. 24 directed Superintendent Frank Harwood to create a COVID Advisory Committee. The exact role of the committee was left open-ended for a few weeks while the superintendent began to recruit members, but Harwood told the board that the general purpose of the committee will be to offer the district guidance on interpreting COVID-19 trends and determining whether USD 232 schools should be in in-person, remote or hybrid learning environments.

The advisory committee will have 17 members total members, broken down into the following groups:

  • 5 patrons from across the school district
  • 5 district employees, including an elementary teacher, a secondary teacher, and a staff member or representative from each of the following departments or teams: health services, mental health and human resources
  • 3 experts who have limited ties to the district in order to provide unbiased opinions. Each of these would have one of the following backgrounds: public health, medicine and mental health
  • 4 ex officio members, which would comprise three school board members and the district superintendent

A positive case: Monday’s discussion about the advisory committee came hours after USD 232 recorded its first positive case, a person connected to Monticello Trails Middle School. Principal Melissa Hansen sent two different letters to parents and families — one for families of students who had low-risk contact with the positive case and the other for families of students who had no contact.

Harwood said the person tested positive over the weekend, which means they had likely been at school last week while infectious.

To date, the school district has 121 staff and students in quarantine or isolation due to possible exposure. Superintendent Frank Harwood said the majority of these possible close contacts took place off school grounds. Some employees were exposed at work over the summer.

To date, the school district has 121 staff and students in quarantine or isolation due to possible exposure. Harwood said the majority of these possible close contacts took place off school grounds.

What was said: Harwood said that giving the school board the final say over the COVID-19 advisory committee’s recommendations will ensure transparency during an unprecedented school year.

Some school board members said they wanted to retain responsibility for final decisions related to learning environments.

  • “I think it’s important that we have professionals and patrons from across the district as well as staff members reviewing the gating criteria and understanding the data, what makes up that gating criteria. But ultimately I think it’s our responsibility to make that determination.” — Danielle Heikes, board president
  • “I also think it’s important that our patrons are able to have that sense of what transpired in these meetings as much as possible, so having that transparency in terms of them being able to hear a report is very important, too.” — Ashley Spaulding, board member

The bigger picture: The USD 232 school board spent nearly six hours in a meeting last month debating whether to allow students to start the school year in a hybrid learning model. The board eventually agreed to do so, overturning an earlier decision to start the school year with all students learning remotely. (That decision left Shawnee Mission Schools as the only public school district in Johnson County doing an all-remote start.)

What’s next: Once formed, the advisory committee will meet sometime next week and provide recommendations for the school board to consider at its next meeting, Sept. 28. The school year began Tuesday, Sept. 8, so the school district so far has limited data to interpret in terms of attendance and absentees.

Any action taken by the board from the advisory committee’s recommendation — including a change in whether students are learning in-person, remotely or in a hybrid environment — could be implemented by early October.