As SMSD plans for in-person learning, health officials say JoCo remains in ‘red zone’

Johnson County health officials told public school leaders Tuesday that current COVID-19 trends continue to suggest in-person learning remains unsafe, even as districts plan to bring more students back to school starting next month.

As of Tuesday, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment said the county remains in the “red zone” of its school reopening criteria. In the “red zone,” JCDHE recommends that schools can have elementary students in school for in-person learning following “safe opening principles,” while it’s recommended middle and high school students learn remotely.

Johnson County’s percent positive test rate on Tuesday sat at 12.4%, though the 14-day rolling average of new cases in the county is decreasing.

Shawnee Mission Schools is the only public school district currently that has all students learning remotely, though district communications director David Smith said SMSD is forging ahead with its plan to begin bringing some elementary students back for in-person learning starting Oct. 5.

“Reopening plans have not changed,” Smith said.

Some elementary students back Oct. 5

In that plan, students in kindergarten through 2nd grade who chose the “in-person” learning model will be brought back to school the first full week of October, followed by students in grades 3 through 6 the following week. Smith said all elementary students in the “in-person” model could be back at school full-time by the end of October “if conditions at that time allow.”

Elementary students who chose “remote only” learning will continue their education away from school for the remainder of the fall semester. Middle and high school students will also continue learning remotely for the time being.

SMSD resumed high school sports and activities earlier this month after temporarily suspending them in August. Smith said this week that so far they have “no indication that there has been any transmission” of COVID-19 at any of the district’s buildings.

He did say some individuals in the district have had to be quarantined due to possible exposure to COVID-19 elsewhere, but he would not say if those individuals are students or staff members.

Some other Johnson County districts that have brought students back to in-person learning have been publicly reporting positive COVID-19 cases in their school buildings, but Smith said SMSD has not yet decided if it will offer similar information once students return to in-person learning there.

Other districts making plans

SMSD is not alone in planning for an expansion of in-person learning in October.

Blue Valley Schools began the school year with elementary students learning in a hybrid model, spending some days learning at school and other days learning remotely. The district announced Tuesday that starting Oct. 5, elementary students who opted for in-person learning will be learning at school every day of the week and that middle and high school students will begin a hybrid model.

That announcement comes after Blue Valley asked 100 individuals linked to one elementary school to quarantine for at least 14 days after some of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, USD 232 in De Soto currently has all its students learning in a hybrid model and is set to hear its first update next week from a special COVID-19 advisory committee made up of district staffers and community members.

After the first week of hybrid learning, De Soto reported 8 total positive cases linked to schools and is expected to update its figures Wednesday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that in the “red zone,” JCDHE recommends all students learn remotely.