SMSD Board of Ed to host special public meeting about school gating criteria

Members of the Shawnee Mission School Board of Education listen to public comments during an August listening session on the district's plan to reopen with all students learning remotely. Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

Amid skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers in Johnson County, the Shawnee Mission School Board plans to host a special public meeting about school gating criteria this coming Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the district’s Center for Academic Achievement.

The details: An announcement issued Friday afternoon by the district said Tuesday’s meeting will be to “hold a dialogue with Johnson County Department of Health and Environment staff regarding the application of COVID-19 gating criteria.”

The district says due to pandemic restrictions, seating at the meeting will be limited and will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The district says the meeting will be streamed live at the district’s website and an agenda will be posted before the meeting here.

It’s unclear what, if any, decisions will be made at the meeting. Some parents and teachers have urged SMSD leaders to consider returning students to remote learning as transmission of the disease has increased in recent weeks.

The bigger picture: Public health officials are ringing increasingly urgent alarm bells about the state of the pandemic in Johnson County and the greater Kansas City region. On Friday, a half dozen hospital leaders from across the metro, including the head of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, gave a grim report to elected officials, saying their hospitals’ capacity for dealing with new COVID-19 patients was running low.

Earlier this week, six of the area’s largest hospitals had 277 patients admitted due to the coronavirus. On Friday, that figure was up to 318, according to Steve Stites, chief medical officer of KU Health Systems.

On Friday, JCDHE’s online COVID-19 dashboard showed the incidence rate of news cases, as measured per 100,000 residents, was at 480, more than double where the rate was at a month ago. Likewise, the percent positivity hovered at 11.9%.

In-person and hybrid learning continues: Despite the rise in case numbers, Johnson County health officials so far have not recommend schools stop in-person and hybrid learning.

Earlier this week, JCDHE moved its gating criteria recommendation from “Orange” to “Red,” but stopped short of urging schools to return students to remote-only learning.

“Data shows that the mitigation efforts [like masking and social distancing] the school districts have implemented have worked thus far,” JCDHE says on its COVID-19 dashboard. “JCDHE will continue to work with school districts to monitor the situation.”

Though it’s unclear if that will change at Tuesday’s meeting, SMSD leaders have said that if any change in learning mode were to be made, parents and families would be given at least a two-week notice before students were shifted.