Gardner-Edgerton parents fighting to get students back to in-person learning

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GARDNER, Kan. — In Johnson County, Kansas, only one school district has yet to move its middle and high school students into some form of in-person learning. Parents in Gardner-Edgerton are hoping to change that.  

A group of Gardner moms are passionate about their kids and determined to fight for getting them back in school.

“I feel like if we can have it in a controlled environment, where we’re very careful, very measured and follow mitigation techniques that JoCo Health Dept suggests, I feel it’s a safer place for them to be than what’s currently happening,” said Gardner parent, Jennifer Whitlow.

Gardner-Edgerton elementary kids have been in classrooms for two months. Meghann Miller’s four youngest kids are thankful to be back.

“Their faces lit up. They got excited. I saw joy back in my children’s lives,” Miller said

But the same isn’t true for her oldest daughter in middle school. The district’s middle and high school students are stuck with virtual learning, despite more than 80% of families requesting in-person learning.  

Whitlow said her son has 82 minutes of screen time per class, back-to-back all day, with few breaks.

“That’s not working. He’s complaining of being exhausted and unfocused and unmotivated and this is a 4.0 kind of student, very driven. His eyes are burning. It’s just not what you want to see for your kids’ life,” Whitlow said.

The moms have banded together with other parents to create the group RISE — Return to In-School Education. The group even surveyed district families, with more than 1,100 responses. 

Miller said it’s been heart-breaking to read some of the kids’ messages, who are seeing their grades and mental health suffer with online classes.

“This is from a high schooler in Gardner: ‘It’s absolutely horrible. I’m unmotivated. I’m not learning anything. I’m stressed and tired and lonely,'” Miller said, reading some of the student and parent responses.

They’re hoping those messages might motivate action from the school board. Right now, Gardner-Edgerton is the lone Johnson County school district without a plan to bring secondary students back to campus.

“I just don’t understand how the other districts can do it, but we cannot. The board has said, ‘Of course we want kids in school.’ Well what’s happening then? What are you doing to keep them in school?” Whitlow said.

The school district referred FOX4 to this document that updates regularly with information for families about its COVID-19 response.   

Monday night, parents are pushing for change. The board of education meets at 6 p.m.

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