USD 232 will factor students’ mental health in school gating criteria for next semester

The USD 232 school district in De Soto now factors in the social and emotional wellness of students when considering whether learning will be virtual, hybrid or on site. Above, students walk in single file at Belmont Elementary in October. Photo courtesy USD 232.

The USD 232 school district in De Soto will now factor in the social and emotional wellness of students when considering whether learning will be virtual, hybrid or on site.

The school board on Monday unanimously agreed to follow a recommendation from the district’s internal COVID-19 advisory committee to consider students’ mental health and the challenges of students face trying to keep up in remote classes when determining the learning environment for schools.

The school board on Monday agreed that the district is currently in the yellow category of its gating criteria, which means that pre-K through 5th grader will be in on-site or hybrid learning, while students in grades 6-12 are in hybrid learning mode.

Older students have been in remote learning mode since Nov. 30, following a surge in COVID-19 cases in Johnson County.

The district’s first semester demonstrated the challenges brought on by the global pandemic, particularly when school officials saw a district-wide spike in D and F grades. Plus, the district still grapples with filling substitute teaching spots as teachers and staff go in and out of quarantine. Above, students learning on site at Mill Creek Middle. Photo courtesy USD 232.

Why the change?

The school board agreed the district needs to re-interpret the Kansas Schools Gating Criteria to more accurately reflect the social-emotional needs of students as well as a growing body of evidence that shows little spread of the novel coronavirus among students and between students and teachers in school buildings.

Meanwhile, the district’s first semester demonstrated the challenges brought on by the global pandemic. School officials say they saw a districtwide spike in D and F grades, and the district is still grappling with filling substitute teaching spots as teachers and certified staff go in and out of quarantine.

While school officials cited the overwhelming benefits of in-person learning for students and teachers, both groups have reported confusion and frustration with the ever-changing hybrid learning environment, which lacks consistency.

“We all need to remember, number one, this is not a typical year in any sense of the word,” said Ashley Spaulding, board member. “We’ve also all acknowledged that we have to be fluid and flexible, and we’ve asked that of our teachers and staff way beyond what we could ever expect of them.

“At the same time, our ultimate goal here has always been to get our kids back in school full time, so if we can make that happen, I think people need to start anticipating that this is looking more promising, and start planning for that.”

Some spread of the novel coronavirus occurred from staff to staff this semester. Yet district officials saw minimal to zero evidence of spread from student to student, or even from student to staff, district officials said. Board members saw this as a positive sign that schools have increasingly become the safest places for students to learn.

“The lack of evidence of spread in schools really has me questioning lately,” said Board President Danielle Heikes.

What’s next: The school board will meet again Jan. 11, 2021, to evaluate the gating criteria and consider the advisory committee’s recommendation on the learning environment. In the meantime, the board has tasked the committee with refining the district’s interpretation of the gating criteria to allow weighted scoring of the metrics.

Meanwhile, second semester begins Jan. 20, 2021. And Jan. 15, the final day of classes for the first semester, is now a half-day for all K-12 students, not just for the high schools.

New scoring system

USD 232’s new scoring system

The district has changed its scoring system to reflect evidence of minimal COVID-19 spread in the schools, as well as the need to factor in social and emotional wellness.

The new system is a point-scoring system that shifts the color categories down two points — those two points represent the weight of social and emotional wellness of students. Instead of averaging the scores for each metric, the scores for each metric would be totaled using a scale to determine the recommended color category.

Here’s how the new scoring system works in practice:

The previous system provided an average (rounded to the nearest whole number) of each of the five scores for each metric of the Kansas Schools Gating Criteria. Each score was shown by a different color (where Green = 1, Yellow = 2, Orange = 3, Red = 4). The total result rounded to the nearest whole number determines the new recommended color category.