Olathe schools learning from younger students’ return as it prepares for older students to come back

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OLATHE, Kan. — Elementary students in the metro’s largest school district are finishing up their first weeks of full face-to-face learning after returning on September 28.

Effective October 19, Olathe Public Schools will also bring back middle and high school students part-time.

Olathe’s youngest students are getting used to learning with masks on and spreading out during the school day. There’s also time devoted to staying clean.

But one thing Olathe learned after initially having elementary kids in hybrid learning a few weeks then transitioning to full-time face-to-face instruction, is that students benefit from consistency and maximizing time in the classroom. So that was a key consideration for the district in how to bring back middle and high schoolers.

“With the high school it’s ‘I’m there, I’m getting my instruction, here are the things I need to work on, read for the next class, I need to practice,’ and same for the middle school,” said superintendent John Allison.

With upwards of 2,000 students in some of the secondary schools, the district felt hybrid was the only safe way right now to begin phasing in those students, half at a time, to help lower COVID-19 transmission risk. Middle school students will attend every other day.  High schoolers will be split into morning and afternoon groups.

“You’ve got smaller class sizes, contact tracing easier, able to social distance, masking, only needing to sterilize a lower number of desks between class if that’s what you want to do as a teacher because you’re only going to have 12-15 in the class potentially,” Allison said.

While the schedules will bring new challenges and expenses for added bus routes, grab-and-go meals and more, many parents who have fought hard for weeks to get students back to school, are pleased.

“It solves the single most important thing—all I care about, is the kids and teachers together, the mental health aspects of teachers seeing the pain and the stress and kids having someone to talk to. So bottom line, it is a step forward,” said Olathe parent Brian Connell.

The superintendent says the board may also take a fresh look at whether student athletes in high-risk sports should continue being force to learn online. And the district is expecting to continue making other adjustments as needed to make hybrid a smooth transition October 19.

“It’ll have some bumps and know everyone is ready for things to return to normal, but we just can’t yet. So we’ll just continue to work for the most positive outcome we can,” Allison said.

“I think they’ll see that it can work and that everyone wants it to work. It’s like a dam breaking.  This has got to happen and find ways to happen,” Connell said. 

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