Johnson County health officials revise school reopening criteria, expand options for middle and high school students

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment today released revised gating criteria that will allow for an expanded hybrid option for middle and high schools “if schools can take appropriate safety precautions.” Above, JCDHE director Sanmi Areola in a file photo.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on Thursday released revised school gating criteria that will allow for an expanded hybrid option for middle and high school students “if schools can take appropriate safety precautions.”

Why it matters: The amended criteria could open the way for public school districts, including Shawnee Mission Schools, to bring older students back for in-person learning sooner than expected.

What’s new: The updated guidance includes a new “orange” zone, denoting “high risk” conditions.

In the “orange” zone, if the county’s percent positive test rate falls between 10.1% and 15%, and the incidence rate of new cases per 100,000 over the previous 14 days falls between 151 and 250, then elementary students are recommended to be learning in-person, and secondary students can be learning remotely or in hybrid mode.

The use of incidence rates of new cases is also a change. Previously, the county’s gating criteria had used the overall rolling average of cases over the previous 14 days to help recommend how fully open schools should be.

County health director Sanmi Areola said in a statement: “JCDHE wants all schools to conduct in-person learning safely. It is important that the health and well-being of our students, teachers, school staff and families is protected. These recommendations are being offered for school administrators and parents/caregivers to make decisions on what is best for their school community and individual family.”

What happens next: Shawnee Mission Schools are set to bring some elementary students in kindergarten through 2nd grade back for in-person learning starting Monday, Oct. 5. Students in grades 3 through 6, who have chosen the district’s “in-person” learning model are set to return the following week. (That plan was in place before the county’s gating criteria were changed Thursday.)

Elementary students at USD 232 in De Soto are returning full-time October 8, with secondary students, grades 6 through 12 set to remain in hybrid learning for the time being.

As of Thursday, Johnson County’s percent positivity was 11.9% and new cases were increasing.