De Soto USD 232 to start school year remotely amid pandemic

Posted at 5:23 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 18:23:59-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — De Soto USD 232 joined the Shawnee Mission School District in opting to begin the 2020-21 school year remotely Tuesday after a meeting earlier in the day with Johnson County health officials.

At the request of the six school districts in the county, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment established gating criteria that is designed to help schools decide when it’s safe to have students, faculty and staff return to in-person learning.

JCDHE Director Dr. Samni Areola presented the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic to the superintendents from each district — Blue Valley, De Soto, Gardner-Edgerton, Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Spring Hill — during a meeting Tuesday morning.

De Soto Superintendent Dr. Frank Harwood explained the district’s decision in a three-minute video.

He acknowledged the frustration of some parents, who are eager to send their children back to school, but stressed that the district won’t reopen its buildings until the community spread of COVID-19 is “moderate or low.”

When the De Soto school year begins Sept. 8, all students will attend classes remotely.

“Otherwise, the risk to our students, our staff as well as the larger community are too great,” Hawood said.

Areola showed school officials data that the number of new coronavirus cases has increased 17.8% during the last two compared to the previous two weeks, rising from roughly 90 new cases per day to 106.

The rolling 14-day positivity rate is at 11.4% as of Tuesday, according to the JCDHE’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Those two factors, which determine the gating criteria, place Johnson County in the Red zone.

The positivity rate would have to drop below 10% with cases remaining steady or declining for Johnson County to move into the Yellow zone, which would allow elementary school students to return to classes and recommends a hybrid model for middle and high schoolers.

JCDHE developed its gating criteria using input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Children’s Mercy Hospital.

De Soto also chose to enact more stringent standards with respect to elementary school students, who will be placed in a hybrid environment — with a mix of in-person and remote classes — even if the county manages to reach the Yellow zone.

“We recognize that remote learning creates a hardship for many of our families,” Harwood said. “We also know that remote learning is not the best environment to help our students grow academically, socially or emotionally. However, the rate of spread of COVID-19 in our community makes remote learning the right choice.”