Kansas school closures for COVID student illness, teacher shortages
The coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate in Kansas, forcing more than a dozen schools to cancel classes as state regulators ease education requirements to become a substitute teacher.
With Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, educators expressed hope that the closures combined with the three-day holiday weekend will stem the tide of illnesses from COVID-19, flu and other illnesses.
At least one district is moving to remote learning, and another has said it might as well.
The school disruptions come as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports rising case rates and 26 active school clusters. Hospital chiefs say they are overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients amid a staffing emergency.
Fairfield $310 near Hutchinson has canceled Friday classes and all extracurricular activities for the next week. Starting Tuesday, the district will transition to remote learning.
“COVID has hit us hard at Fairfield among students and staff, and the situation has become unsustainable with so many adults and students leaving due to the rapid spread of the virus,” district officials announced.
The district treated Friday as a snow day and used the time off to allow maintenance staff to deep clean the building.
“We are so sorry for how this is bothering everyone, but we just don’t have enough adults or substitute teachers to continue having a normal school day,” officials said. “Also, we have more students every day as the virus and other diseases continue to spread.”
Remote learning may not be a long-term solution due to a provision in last year’s Schools Budget Bill that threatened to cut funding for districts that hold online classes for more than a year. ‘one week.
There are potential ways to circumvent the 40-hour distance learning limit, including in the event of a disaster that restricts school operation, but uncertainty remains over ambiguous language.
Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, who signed the bill, urged the Republican-controlled legislature to reconsider the remote learning provisions.
“There was a lot more to the bill than that,” Kelly told reporters on Friday. “And sometimes you just need to get things done, and there are things that you don’t particularly like, but for the greater good, you go ahead and deal with them.
“I hope the legislature recognizes what’s going on and maybe changes this law.”
AT Caney Valley, west of Coffeyville, district leaders have warned “we may have to move to distance learning” starting Tuesday if attendance continues to drop or more staff fall ill. Eight days into the spring semester, average attendance was around 80%.
COVID-19 forces closures
More than a dozen school districts canceled classes at the end of the week. Some have chosen to use the snow days built into the calendar.
The continuation of activities and sports varied by district, as did plans for whether or not to require students and staff to wear masks when they return to class.
Despite evidence from Kansas schools showing that mask mandates are effective in reducing the size and number of outbreaks, many school boards have been reluctant to require masks.
Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 canceled Friday lessons. District officials said they typically miss an average of about 50 licensed employees per day, with an average of five needed positions not filled by replacements. But over the past week, the district has averaged 85 absences with 15 positions not filled by replacements.
“With our entire district short-staffed since the winter break and the recognition that high levels of performance are not sustainable under these conditions, the decision has been made to provide all students and staff with a four-day weekend to hopefully get healthy,” district administrators said.
USD 232, on the Kansas City metro outskirts, canceled Friday classes in anticipation of about 20% of teachers missing classes. As of Thursday, nearly 100 teaching positions remained unfilled in the district. During this time, about 10% of students have been absent due to illness.
“This negatively impacts our daily teaching for students,” administrators said, adding that they hope the weekend “will provide the recuperation that individuals need to avoid further disruption to the learning process.” .
Other schools that have announced closures include El Dorado 490 USD, Bonner Springs and Edwardsville $204, Eudora $491, Wellsville $289, Pittsburgh $250, Fort Scott $234, Galena USD 499, Weapon USD 246, Frontenac $249, Baxter Springs $508, and Fredonia USD 484.
“This delay will hopefully break this cycle of positive cases,” Fredonia Superintendent Brian Smith said.
Galena officials have also expressed concern about limited testing supplies.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday reported 26 active outbreaks statewide in schools, with five more clusters in sports. The agency has publicly identified outbreaks in several schools.
- Anthony Elementary School in Anthony.
- Monossori Children’s Village in Overland Park.
- Heartspring School in Wichita.
- College / High School Marion in Marion.
- North Fairview Elementary School in Topeka Seaman.
- Oak Hill Elementary School in Overland Park.
- Peabody Burns High School in Peabody.
- Soderstrom Primary School in Lindsborg.
- $321 Rossville.
- USD 417 Council Grove Elementary School.
- Wamego Schools.
- Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park.
- Wabaunsee Junior High in Paxico.
State relaxes underqualifications
In a move to ease staffing issues, the Kansas State Board of Education declared an emergency on Wednesday and temporarily waived college credit requirements for emergency substitute teacher licenses.
The move allows understaffed school districts to hire adults with high school diplomas but no college education as substitutes. Subs must also pass background checks and have their fingerprints taken.
Typically, substitute teachers need 60 credit hours of college coursework. There is no such requirement for the Temporary Emergency Authorized License, which can only be used during the Spring 2022 semester.
“While this is far from an ideal or perfect solution, we need to provide relief to Kansas teachers and schools,” Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our teaching ranks, and there simply aren’t enough people authorized to fill replacement roles when our educators are sick or otherwise need to be out of the classroom. “
The Kansas Association of School Boards, the United School Administrators of Kansas and the Kansas National Education Association have all supported this decision while acknowledging that it is not ideal.
“As we continue to turn to medical experts for guidance, keeping students in classrooms with highly trained educators is our priority,” said KNEA Executive Director Kevin Riemann. “We support this temporary, but necessary step, as it gives school staff time to recover from illness without putting additional and unsustainable pressure on an already reduced workforce.”
School District COVID Rates
Below is a searchable database of suspected student cases and vaccination rates. the the data was published by KDHE on Friday and covers the two-week period ending on January 9. Cases diagnosed within the last week and new vaccinations are not included.
Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl contributed reporting.