3 Kansas City metro districts share back-to-school plans

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 21:11:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The upcoming school year will bring a new normal for students and families in the Kansas City metro.

41 Action News recently spoke with three area school districts about what they expect to see when students return to class, whether in-person or virtually.

"I don't think anything will be normal," said Yaw Obeng, superintendent of the Hickman Mills C-1 School District.

Obeng's counterpart in Belton agrees.

"I'm not sure what normal is, honestly," Belton School District Superintendent Andy Underwood said.

That's what school superintendents know for sure.

In the Kansas City metro, school districts' reopening plans range widely, with no "one-size-fits-all" model in place.

"We have about 65% of students that have enrolled thus far for in-person and 35% virtual, which will honestly help us because fewer numbers in buildings will allow us to have more space," Underwood said.

Belton schools start on Aug. 24. The majority of families who opted for virtual classes have older students who are already used to doing work on a take-home device.

The district bought more tech devices that will improve virtual classes. Teachers will wear a device around their necks and a camera will follow them around the classroom so they can move freely, rather than having to be at their desks.

"They can actually be up and instructing and showing and demonstrating on the board to the students who are not only there in person but also via distanced learning as well," Underwood said.

The Belton district is requiring masks at all times, except in the classroom. School officials plan to distance kids in the classroom and hallways and have them eat breakfast in their classrooms. The district will install water bottle refillers so students don't have to use the water fountain. Electives teachers, such as those for art and music, will come to the classroom to limit travel in the hallways.

The Hickman Mills School District expects to do some form of virtual learning for most of the year. Schools there also start on Aug. 24.

Obeng said he's anticipating what he calls a "COVID slide," referring to important content that students missed last spring because the environment shifted so quickly.

"I know we're going to be looking to do some review, some recap in terms of what they learned last year and move it up and continue to work on more strategies to improve," Obeng said.

Hickman Mills is still working on making its virtual curriculum as robust as in-school learning. The district's Board of Education will decide on a final plan.

"The issue of technology inequities really has been magnified during this COVID experience," Obeng said. "Fortunately, we were able to go one-to-one and every student has a technological device. We were also able to support our students with connectivity."

The De Soto Unified School District 232 is still finalizing its reopening plans, with classes set to start after Labor Day, on Sept. 8.

The district is looking at either all virtual learning or on-site, which has three different variations:

  • On-site with 100% capacity;
  • Hybrid with 50% capacity;
  • All remote.

"We know we expect to have a fairly large number, probably close to 1,000 students, that are choosing optional remote," said Frank Harwood, superintendent of De Soto schools.

The hybrid option would mean having one group of students on-site Monday and Tuesday, keeping all students at home on Wednesday, and bringing another group on-site Thursday and Friday.

"Instructionally, even whether we are on-site or hybrid or remote, we're looking at more project-based activities where you can benefit from the two days of on-site instruction and then working independently the other time," Harwood said.

De Soto schools also will space kids as they come into the building and in the classrooms. The district is requiring masks, except while eating, but cafeteria plans are still in the works. School officials are working on some outdoor recess activities where students don't need to wear masks.

All three districts say they are planning daily temperature checks for students and staff.