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Shawnee Mission School District prepares for continued virtual learning

SMSD approves purchase of a new cloud-based system
Posted at 8:43 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 06:04:37-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The Shawnee Mission School District said that while they plan to have students back in buildings this fall, it also is changing one aspect of the virtual learning process, just in case.

On Monday, the SMSD Board of Education approved a new calendar to give teachers more time to prepare for the fall semester. Instead of starting school on Aug. 12, students would not return to class until Aug. 17. The district wants to use August 12-14 as professional learning days to help teachers prepare for the new year. The district said the adjusted calendar will not impact the final day of school.

Once students return to campus, there will be more hand sanitizer stations throughout classrooms and the building. It will cost the district nearly $68,000 to purchase the dispensers, but the funding will come from the federal CARES Act money the district received.

If virtual classrooms will still be in play, the board approved purchasing a new content-filtering platform called Lightspeed. It will cost the district nearly $100,000 for a two-year time span. According to the district, this cost is approximately $10,200 less than the competing product.

The district's IT department said it looked into several options after parents complained about problems with the VPN when students had to transition virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. The district's IT department said the cloud-based Lightspeed system came highly recommended from other districts.

Some of the benefits brought up during the board meeting Monday included:

  • Students will have a harder time bypassing the content filters.
  • The system allows features for teachers to see which sites are being visited by students.
  • There is a parent portal.

The one negative discussed was how the department will install the new system on current Macbooks and laptops that students have at home. The IT department said most Macbooks can be updated remotely, but for iPads, those would need to be updated at the schools.

SMSD said it is waiting for recommendations from the Kansas Board of Education, which meets on July 10, before making any other changes to the upcoming school year.