Shawnee says learning centers that popped up during COVID-19 should be regulated as ’emergency resources’

The Shawnee Planning Commission has decided against including learning centers — which became popular following COVID-19 school closures, in the city code after determining these pop-up centers should be defined as an “emergency disaster resource.” Above, Merle Dunn learning virtually at Harvest Ridge Covenant Church in Shawnee. File photo.

The Shawnee Planning Commission has decided against including learning centers in the city code.

Instead, the city will continue regulating learning centers, which have become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, under the city’s current administrative policy.

City leaders and staff determined that remote learning centers — especially those that popped up last fall — should be defined as an “emergency disaster resource.”

Centers that started during the COVID-19 pandemic would fit under this category, staff argues, after schools shut their doors for in-person learning and placed students in virtual learning environments for long stretches of the year.

The city’s policy on learning centers is effective indefinitely and allows city staff the flexibility to consider applications for learning centers on a case-by-case basis.

Click here for a complete copy of the city’s administrative policy on learning centers.

“COVID has taught us a lot this year, and we should probably be a little bit more broad than just a shelter in response to an emergency,” said Stephanie Malmborg, deputy community development director. “I think a COVID-related or a disaster-related learning center does fall within this emergency disaster resource definition.”

Some planning commissioners raised concerns with creating text amendments in the city code that regulate private learning in the home or a business.

“It’s almost like we’re creating a challenge that’s really not there,” said Commissioner Steve Wise. “It’s really a case-by-case basis. There are just so many other questions, so many unknowns. I don’t know that we can come up with the regulations, and I think that’s what we’re struggling with, if we’re still dealing with this a month and a half, two months later.”

The planning commission on Dec. 21 voted 10-0 to keep the administrative policy in effect for learning centers. Commissioner John Montgomery was absent.