Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley warn of potential COVID-19 school closures — ‘We are running out of options’

Johnson County schools COVID

Even as other Kansas City metro districts close schools temporarily, both the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley districts have sent messages to parents asking them to prepare for the eventuality of temporary closures in those districts, too. "The reality is we are running out of options and families should prepare," Blue Valley's message said. Above, students in a Shawnee Mission elementary classroom last semester. File image.

Both the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts are warning parents and families that schools — both individually and districtwide — may need to temporarily shut down due to staffing and substitute shortages spurred by spread of the Omicron variant.

In a message to families Friday, the Shawnee Mission district warned that persistent staff shortages could prompt some individual schools or the entire district to temporarily shut down.

The message cited the “dramatic surge” in cases in recent weeks fueled by the Omicron variant has having put more stress on staff and students.

“We are fortunate to have been able to manage these challenges up to this point,” the message said. “Our staff has shown remarkable flexibility and ingenuity in responding to staff shortages and the unavailability of substitutes. However, it is likely that these efforts will not be sustainable. Were that to happen, we would need to consider closing a school, or perhaps even the district as a whole, for one or more days. (As a reminder, due to legislation passed last year by the Kansas legislature, we do not have the same options for remote learning that we did last year).”

The message went on to say that  decision to close a school or the district’s operations as whole could come on short notice.

“For that reason, we are asking you [families] to begin thinking now about what options you have in case your child’s school is closed.”

Shawnee Mission officials told the Post last week that the district had 145 teacher absences that required a request for a substitute teacher, not all of which were filled due to a shortage in the substitute pool.

In its own letter home to families Friday, Blue Valley officials struck a blunt tone.

“The reality is we are running out of options and families should prepare,” the message read. While the message reiterated that in-person classes was still the best option for students, persistent and growing staffing shortages could necessitate a temporary closure.

The district said last week it averaged more than 330 teacher absences a day — with nearly 450 out on Friday.

“We are out of levers to pull and a school day closure is a very real possibility if staff and substitute shortages due to illnesses continue to worsen,” the district’s message said. “If that decision is made, we would communicate to staff and families much like we do for a snow day.”

The warnings from Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission were sent Friday, the same day that USD 232 in De Soto canceled class because nearly 100 teachers were absent. Classes were set to resume in  De Soto on Tuesday, after the three-day holiday weekend.

Both the Olathe and Kansas City Kansas school districts also canceled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday due to hundreds of staffers in each district being out sick.