Blue Valley committed to making schools safe when students, staff return after Labor Day

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OLATHE, Kan. — Even without a mandate from the Kansas governor, several local schools are still planning to wait til after Labor Day to start classes.

Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley made that decision Wednesday. The Olathe Board of Education is expected to follow suit Thursday.

Grade school kids playing at Antioch Park in Merriam are thankful for a few extra weeks of summer break. Their moms know preparing for the upcoming school year is an immense undertaking.

“I also feel for the people making the decision because we’ve all — none of us have been through this — so we’re all trying to navigate it,” said Stephanie Dear, a Blue Valley parent.

Dear’s three kids will be going back in-person to Blue Valley schools this year. She and her friend Carolyn Walters, who has two students in Catholic schools, said they just couldn’t cope with continuing virtual learning.

“I am no teacher, and they miss their teachers. These kids love their teachers,” Walters said.

Still, both moms expect there’s a good chance students will return to the classroom, but be sent back home later once COVID-19 hits schools.

“We have a very difficult school year coming up,” said Kristi McNerlin, Blue Valley Schools’ chief communications officer.

But Blue Valley is committed to doing all it can to make the return to school safe.

It will follow the governor’s mandates for all kids and staff to wear masks and get temperature checks. Classroom setups and schedules are being shifted to help with social distancing. Younger kids will stick together through the course of their day.

“In elementary, it will be a cohort. A classroom will be a cohort, so keeping those groups of students together and not having lots of mingling between classrooms and we think that will help to reduce some of the exposure could potentially be if there’s a positive case,” McNerlin said.

The district is delaying the start of school until Sept. 9 to allow extra time for getting cleaning supplies, extra masks, thermometers, Plexiglass barriers and more.

“I think that’s great. They’re trying to do everything they can to keep our kids safe,” Dear said.

The longer summer break will also help teachers prepare for a more stringent virtual education program and train to handle the “new normal.”

Blue Valley said it also wants to help students cope with this unprecedented situation.

The first few days back won’t be focused on diving right back into book work. They want to help students adjust to being back in a classroom for the first time in six months and address any social-emotional needs kids may now have.

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