‘Go back to full-time,’ Olathe parents say, protesting after older kids return to virtual learning

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OLATHE, Kan. — This week the Olathe School District followed through on their plan to move all of their middle and high school students to virtual learning.

But on Wednesday night, a protest ensued with the main parent-organizer calling for teachers to be fired if they won’t teach in person.

District official discussed a number of issues during their meeting, including reducing their required quarantine guidelines to match those recently updated by Johnson County. The move could help alleviate staff absences.

But the main emotion stressed by protesters before and during the meeting was frustrated anger.

The group wasn’t as big as in months past but was color-coordinated, wearing blue as part of a counter-protest against the teacher’s union.

But there wasn’t a big group of teachers to counter-protest. Instead, protesters mostly shared their resentment over a perceived broken promise.

“Never did I think we would have to come back to get our kids back in the school district because they promised they’d keep them in school, and that’s not happening,” said Brian Commell, organizer of the protest.

“I’d like to see all the schools go back to full-time. I don’t have a problem with the parents or even some of the teachers who would rather stay remote. So those teachers who stay remote can teach the kids who want to stay remote,” said Tera Jensen-Battese, another protester.

Inside at the meeting, Olathe School Board President Joe Beveridge started off by talking about angry emails he has received about virtual learning.

“This move was made for one simple reason: the community spread of the coronavirus is too high. Because of this and associated cases and quarantines, we do not have enough teachers, staff and substitute teachers to open buildings,” Beveridge said.

In fact, some elementary teachers are calling for those schools to move to virtual learning as well.

“I worry about a colleague whose baby will be born in just a few short months, and she comes to work every day nervous. I don’t want her to feel that way,” said Megan Brick, a music teacher at Forest View Elementary School.

Commell, the protest organizer, instead suggested this: “Get rid of the teachers who won’t go to school and hire the teachers who want to work,” he said.

Olathe School District administration said they have aggressively tried to increase their number of substitutes, but attracting the necessary numbers to meet the demands of the pandemic has been challenging and hiring goals have not been met.

The district started this year with about 150 substitutes less than the 2019 school year. Many substitutes are former teachers and fall into older demographics that the CDC warns is at higher risk of health issues if they get COVID-19.

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