SMSD says middle and high school students could return to some in-person learning Oct. 26

Students and parents outside a SMSD Board of Education meeting in September, urging the district to reopen schools more fully. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Middle and high school students in the Shawnee Mission School District could return to some in-person learning on Oct. 26, according to an announcement released by the district late Friday afternoon.

Why it matters: SMSD’s announcement came a day after the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment revised its school reopening criteria, relaxing recommended standards for when secondary students could learn in person. District leaders and county health officials have faced pressure from some parents to reopen schools more fully amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even as county health data shows a recent rise in new cases.

The details: The district says middle and high school students could start learning in hybrid mode Oct. 26 “assuming the county remains in the orange or yellow gating criteria, and with mitigating adjustments in place.”

The county’s revised gating criteria created an “orange” zone in which it is recommended secondary students can return to some in-person learning if the county’s test positivity rate is between 10.1% and 15% and the incidence rate of new cases falls between 151 and 250 per 100,000.

The incidence rate is a metric previously not used by the county to determine school reopening recommendations, but the county’s test positivity rate has been in the 10-15% range for weeks. That put schools in the “red” zone of JCDHE’s previous gating criteria, which recommended secondary students learn only remotely.

Currently, Johnson County’s COVID-19 data puts the schools in the “orange” zone of the revised reopening criteria.

The bigger picture: This latest news does not impact elementary students in SMSD. The district is preparing to bring back some students in kindergarten through 2nd grade on Monday for hybrid learning. Students who have chosen the district’s “in person” learning option in grades 3 through 6 are set to return to hybrid learning the week after.

Other districts in Johnson County are also planning an expansion of in-persons learning this month.

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

In Blue Valley, district officials say all students K-12 who have chosen “in-person” learning will start attending school at least two days a week, starting Monday, Oct. 5.

Olathe Schools leaders are also expected to announce details of a “potential hybrid schedule” for secondary students next week.

Going deeper: ‘We’re taking it slow’ — What to expect when SMSD students return to class, starting Oct. 5