SHAWNEE, Kan. — The Shawnee Mission School District welcomed third- through sixth-graders back into school buildings Monday as the district shifted more students to hybrid learning. Pre-kindergarten through second-graders switched to hybrid learning last week.
"I'm very happy," Courtney Bukovaz, whose two boys are now back in-person for a few days each week, said. "They're very happy. They were super excited."
For families like the Bukovazes, the transition brings welcome relief after months of school closures sandwiched around summer break.
"They've never been thrilled about school, and they're thrilled about going back to school to be with their friends and to make the bond with their teacher," Bukovaz said.
SMSD spokesman David Smith said the district is confident with its plan to safely bring students back into classrooms.
"We've got all kinds of precautions — in terms of cleaning procedures and protocols we do every day, in terms of signs on the floor to help kids social distance, in terms of procedures for using the restrooms and cafeterias (and) schedules that allow for social distancing," he said. "We've spent a lot of time working to make sure we can do this."
Still, the pandemic hasn't gone away in Kansas. In fact, according to the 41 Action New Daily COVID-19 Tracker, the state set a single-day record with 1,841 new COVID-19 cases last Friday.
The second-most cases for a single day in state history, 1,761, were reported on Monday, a rising tide of cases that worries health professionals.
"What we've done is plateaued off at a new high rate and now we're starting back up on more cases per day coming into fall and winter, and it's not going to get any better in the fall and winter," Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said. "As a matter of fact, it's going to be worse."
SMSD believes it's protocols will prevent an outbreak from happening, even if a student contracts COVID-19 and brings it into the school.
"If we followed all our criteria, in terms of social distancing and mask wearing, it isn't considered an exposure for others in the classroom," Smith said. "Contact tracing will be thing that determines that. The questions will be asked, was anybody in the position to be exposed? And if they were, anyone who was exposed will have to quarantine."
The social and emotional well-being of kids versus the threat of COVID-19 has been a strange dynamic for families to work through, but Bukovaz says she's also confident.
"I think they're taking every precaution they can to keep the kids safe," she said, "and just that they're back in school, that's what we're happy about."
The latest Johnson County gating criteria doesn't support bringing back middle or high school students quite yet.