De Soto students heading back to classroom as COVID-19 cases remain high in JoCo

Tracking Coronavirus

DE SOTO, Kan. — Thousands of students in a Johnson County School district are heading back to the classroom full time. It comes when COVID-19 cases are close to the highest level since the pandemic started.

Right now, middle and high school students in De Soto USD 232 are learning online. They’ll come back with hybrid learning next week, then move to full-time classes five days a week for the first time in months. The district’s confident it can keep kids and staff safe.

Shannon Doser’s son is a junior at Mill Valley High School. He and other students in De Soto schools have flip-flopped between hybrid and remote learning this year, and the changes haven’t been easy.

“It’s been challenging. It’s very isolating for the kids,” Doser said.

She and many other parents have been pleading for full in-person learning. Monday night, the school board agreed unanimously to allow all K-12 students to come back to classrooms full-time, starting February 1.

“We’re all ecstatic to have our kids back in the building. It’s the best place for them,” Doser said.

But right now, Johnson County is close to its highest COVID-19 positive case rate, of nearly 15%.

The Kansas City metro hit a peak this week of nearly 32% of those tested positive for the virus.

“I just don’t know how we can do it safely,” said Landra Fair, a science teacher at Mill Valley.

When school resumes, Fair said she’ll have hundreds of kids passing in hallways and 28 students elbow-to-elbow sitting at classroom lab tables.

“The classes are 83 minutes long, so it’s almost an hour and a half sitting next to somebody just inches away. So even with everyone wearing masks, that seems dangerous,” Fair said.

In a letter issued to parents, Superintendent Dr. Frank Harwood insisted, “Data shows schools can accommodate a higher level of community spread of the virus due to the many mitigation protocols in place.”

“Nobody wants teachers not to be safe, no one wants kids to not be safe, and yet the logic can’t science is saying it’s a safe place for them to be,” Doser said.

But Doser is concerned it could be tough to keep kids in school. Many area districts have struggled to keep enough substitute teachers.

“My daughter, my 22-year-old, she has actually got her certification paperwork so she can substitute. I know a lot of my friends and neighbors have done the same. I think that’s indicative of fact most of us feel at peace having our kids in person,” Doser said.

The move to full in-person learning in De Soto schools became possible because the district is now using how many students and staff are absent as part of its decision making to switch between learning modes. It says that number has never topped 3% since school started in September.

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