OLATHE, Kan. — The metro’s largest school district will send some of its students back home for online learning. Olathe is the last district in Johnson County, Kansas to make the switch, which will start after Thanksgiving break.
It was just a few weeks ago, the county health department said even though the escalating spread of COVID-19 put schools in the “red zone,” schools could stay open, since spread in classrooms has been minimal. But now, every district in Johnson County is finding the impact of spiking virus cases and quarantines make staying in school almost impossible.
Classrooms swapped for computer screens this fall proved a tough transition for Holly Palacio’s three kids, especially her middle schooler.
“For our youngest, he’s special needs, so online learning was a disaster. Completely incompatible with education,” Palacio said.
The family fought the district to get him back in a school building. Then a month ago, her other two kids started hybrid learning. Holly says it’s made a huge difference.
“The idea that remote is an option to return to is quite frankly terrifying,” Palacio said.
But with COVID-19 cases spiking and districts struggling to have enough teachers and subs to cover classes every Johnson County district is planning to send 6th-12th graders back to virtual school.
“I think larger concern is what is actually effective academically? If you’re saying remote is effective education, then it needs to be reflected in grades and that’s not what’s bearing out,” Palacio said.
Jason Anderson admits remote learning was tough for his special needs son, too. So he switched back to full-time in-person classes last week. But within four days, they got a notice of a positive COVID case in his class.
“It does give me pause about the decision,” Anderson said.
He is thankful Blue Valley is moving older students to virtual learning after Thanksgiving, but is concerned for his elementary student and whether school can keep running long-term.
“I fully believe that’s not sustainable,” Anderson said.
His family is skipping a traditional Thanksgiving gathering and believes any chance of keeping kids in school this winter will hinge on others doing the same this holiday season.
“I don’t expect that to be the norm in the metro so do think the wave we’re seeing right now is not going to go away after Thanksgiving, if anything it’s going to sustain and increase if we don’t change behavior,” Anderson said.
In Olathe, the district is planning to allow winter sports to continue and some high-need special needs students will still be allowed on-campus.
Health officials stress, especially heading into the holidays, that masks, social distancing, and staying home if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, are more important precautions than ever.