Johnson County parents upset schools open for voting, but older students can’t return to class

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — The three largest Johnson County school districts now have plans to slowly begin bringing back elementary students for more face-to-face classes. 

But middle and high schoolers are continuing to learn online.  That’s why some parents are concerned about plans for schools to be used for reasons other than education this fall.

Dusty Wells is thankful she can cheer her son on in Olathe school sports again, but she is frustrated the high school senior hasn’t been in a physical classroom for six months now.

“These kids need to be in their classroom.  They need to be talking to a teacher. They need to be seeing each other. It’s called human development,” Wells said.

Wells is glad Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission will all be bringing back elementary kids to schools soon. But as middle and high schoolers await the green light to return, she was furious to see a recent social media post.  The Johnson County Election Office was thanking all three districts for offering up schools as polling places in November.

“I am for the schools using their facilities for in-person voting. I think that’s appropriate.  But I’m absolutely stunned that our kids are not allowed into these buildings.  That I don’t understand,” Wells said.

The county election office says it’s adding at least a dozen new polling places for the presidential election.  it’s critical to do so, with record turnout expected and needing to allow for social distancing of both machines and voters.

“The presidential election has always been the big storm that happens every four years. Highest voter turnout of any election we ever administer. But we’ve factored in COVID-19 and everything that goes with that,” said Connie Schmidt, Johnson Co. Election Commissioner.

Olathe has now reconsidered and will not be allowing schools to be used as voting sites.  

Shawnee Mission will only offer two spaces that do not house students.  

Blue Valley is planning for all five high schools to be polling places but insists that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for school to be in session at the same time.  

Districts are working with the election office on logistics to keep voters coming and going without moving through school buildings. And there’s a big focus on safety to make sure everyone can get to the polls and make their voices heard.

“It’s my favorite election because that’s when everyone is participating and it’s really what it’s meant to be—everyone experiencing the right to vote,” said Schmidt.

The Johnson County election office also continues to encourage early voting to avoid crowds on Election Day. It’s already sorted through more than 80,000 mail ballot applications, with tens of thousands more to be processed. Advanced in-person voting starts October 17th, and extra early vote sites and days are also being added.

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