One week from back to school, Olathe parents, teachers remain at odds over in-person or virtual

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OLATHE, Kan. — Parents in Olathe remain deeply divided over the district’s plans to bring elementary students back to school and have older students learn virtually.  

Teachers were planning an “Olathe for Safe Schools” rally Monday afternoon but canceled after parents fighting for in-person classes planned a counter-protest.

The Olathe chapter of the National Education Association said it hoped the event could be the beginning of ending sharp division in the community over return-to-school plans.

“We believe we all have the same goal,” said Leigh Anne Rogers, president of Olathe NEA. “We want all our kids to get back to school. Our educators want nothing more than to get back to the classroom, and so we wanted to bring people together around that message.”

But many parents from a Facebook group called “Olathe Parents in Support of In-Person Learning” didn’t see it that way.

“Everybody’s struggling in some way, and everyone has their own challenges with this situation, teachers included,” said parent Lauren Smith, who started the Facebook group. “We know we need our teachers and know they need to know we respect them and that we want them back with our kids.”

Smith is a NICU nurse, and in her hospital, she’s seen the real impacts of COVID-19. But her kindergartner struggled with virtual school last spring, and she said she couldn’t put her family through that again.

“It’s something that you have to weigh for each individual family and decide if the benefits are worth the risks and think for our family, it was. And I think for many families, 80% for Olathe, have felt the same way, that the benefit was worth the risk,” Smith said.

Her son will now attend school in a hybrid model, bringing new challenges for the family. She’s hoping when Olathe’s board meets Thursday, it will commit to bringing students who chose in-person back to campus next month and allow sports and school activities to fully resume.

But the NEA said that will require everyone following through on social distancing and wearing masks, to bring COVID case numbers down.

“We want them to know it’s based on science and based on what is good for the health of the community, and when we all do our part to do those things, then the community is better for it,” Rogers said.

Olathe Schools did allow sports practices to start again Monday. The school board is expected to decide Thursday if games and competition could start back up. 

The district is also expect to review COVID-19 case trends in three weeks to see if anything with the educational delivery models can be changed.

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