Shawnee Mission superintendent responds to parent requests to send older students back to school

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Shawnee Mission’s school board discussed its reopening plan Tuesday night but made no changes to plans for middle or high school students doing remote learning or the gating criteria it’s using.

All elementary students in the district will be going back in to schools full time by Oct. 26, with the first subset of that group, pre-K through 2nd, going to the hybrid model Oct. 5.

Some parents would like all students to have that option.

“What is your justification? That is what most of the parents want to know,” Vanessa Nyhus, a mother of two high school students, said at a rally before the meeting attended by roughly 50 parents and students.

Parents rally outside a Shawnee Mission school board meeting on Sept. 29.

Superintendent Dr. Mike Fulton said he’s following Johnson County Health Department’s guidance, and the numbers just aren’t there yet.

“As long as we are following the JOCO gating criteria, they call for us to be in remote and that’s honestly the only response I have at the moment,” Fulton told Board Member Jessica Hembree during the meeting when she asked about the district’s plan.

Parents, physicians and board members also questioned the gating criteria for reopening schools, and whether the district is using the best data by utilizing the Johnson County’s Health Department’s calculations and not KDHE’s calculations for Johnson County, which list positivity rates as much lower.

That disparity is caused by the way the two entities differ in the way they consider multiple tests of the same person.

Fulton said he’s in discussions with the health department about how secondary students might be able to attend school while still in the red. He said he’s received information Johnson County might be revising the way it calculates positivity rates.

Ingrid Blacketer, a Shawnee Mission eighth grader, said her mental health is being affected by remote learning, as is her level of education.

“I feel like we are scared to speak up on Zoom because the teacher is always talking or to raise our hands and the teacher not realize,” she said.

“We have to have our voices heard and our faces seen so we hope that they make a decision that will help our kids get the best education possible during this time,” Taylor Brown, a mother of five students, said.

The district recently gave elementary families the option to reconsider in-person learning versus virtual.

There were 735 students who originally opted for virtual and switched to in-person, with 213 switching to virtual.

The superintendent apologized to the hundreds of students who ended up with new teachers as a result of at least 20 teachers needing to leave year-long virtual assignments to head back to the classroom.

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