OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Shawnee Mission School District leaders said the switch to remote learning for middle and high school students is due to staffing challenges. It's set to last through the end of the semester, but some students and parents believe it should stay in place for the rest of the school year.
"They would have continued in person learning if it weren't for staffing issues," Eli Forssberg, a Shawnee Mission West High School senior, said.
Forssberg wasn't surprised after learning his classmates and he would transition to all-virtual classes after Thanksgiving break.
"We have countless teachers that are having to miss in-person classes for 10 to 14 days because of self-isolation," Forssberg said.
As of Monday, the district's dashboard showed that 180 staff members and more than 800 students have either tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus.
"People wear their masks incorrectly all the time if they're not being harped on by a teacher about it," Forssberg said.
Superintendent Mike Fulton said the high numbers can be attributed to community spread.
"This is not where, as a community, we hope to be heading into the holiday season," Fulton said Monday during the district's monthly board meeting.
Fulton also said the return to remote learning allows the district to shift substitute teachers to elementary schools, which will continue with in-person learning. But find substitutes is "getting decidedly worse," according to Fulton.
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"We have 50 unfilled positions today, and that number is growing," he said. "We're trying to do everything we can to avoid any kind of emergency situations through good advanced planning and anticipating where these data are taking us in the days and weeks ahead."
Which is why parents of secondary students said there shouldn't be a rush to decide what happens next.
"Postpone the option-change window until you are in a position to provide clear criteria in making and honoring the commitments necessary for teachers, staff, students and families to reasonably consider an in person model," Lisa Feingold, an SMSD parent, said.
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Forssberg said he believes the district's remote-learning infrastructure is strong enough to keep him and his classmates home in the spring.
"It would solve safety concerns," Forssberg said. "It would solve -- It would solve having to deal with people being out because of isolation."
Fulton told the school board with whatever future switches occur, administrators will do their best to give parents two weeks' notice.