KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Shawnee Mission School District reversed course on Wednesday and will allow fall athletics to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a special meeting, the district’s Board of Education voted 5-2 to allow fall sports to resume. The decision, which goes into effect immediately, comes after weeks of opposition and protests over the decision to cancel athletics, including one civil suit from several golf players at Shawnee Mission East.
Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, told Superintendent Mike Fulton on Wednesday that the district could proceed with athletics and other activities as long as "appropriate safety precautions" were taken to minimize risks, including cohorting, preventive random sampling, limiting spectator attendance and monitoring symptoms.
Athletics and Activities Director Richard Kramer said the district will largely follow guidelines set by the Kansas State High School Athletics Association, which has provided different protocols for each sport and activity.
Student-athletes will need to answer screening questions before they will be allowed to practice each day, Kramer said. They also will be responsible for bringing their own masks to practice and will need to access locker rooms in waves, with enough spacing left between lockers.
Kramer told the board the district will "monitor and adjust" strategies for athletics as needed. He added that teams had already put safety protocols into place in August, before activities were temporarily suspended.
Watch the board meeting below:
Also Wednesday, Fulton said the district will begin transitioning younger students to in-person learning. Parents of elementary students will have until Sunday, Sept. 13, to choose whether they want their children to continue with remote learning for the rest of the year or move to an in-person model.
Only parents who want to change their initial choice of learning for their child need to respond to the district. Their decision will remain in effect for the rest of the year, which Fulton said will help the district determine necessary staffing levels.
Once the district has that information from parents, district officials will take two weeks to plan scheduling and add staff as needed at the elementary levels. New schedules for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students will be out by Sept. 28, Fulton said, with hybrid learning to begin the week of Oct. 5.
By the week of Oct. 19, the district will begin transitioning elementary students to in-person learning, with the priority going to the youngest students.
Middle and high school students will continue with remote learning. Fulton said it's more difficult to cohort students in higher grades because they move from class to class, calling it "a glitch in trying to get to on-site learning" for secondary students.
Fulton said elementary students should be able to continue with in-person learning as long as Johnson County does not exceed positivity rates of 15%, which is part of the county's gating criteria for schools.
In August, SMSD announced it would begin school remote-only with fall sports and activities suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other school districts in Johnson County were less stringent in their reopening plans, allowing some students to return to class in-person and some fall activities to continue with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
The board's next regularly scheduled workshop meeting is Sept. 14.