Olathe Board of Education mulls gating criteria change

OLATHE, Kan. — The Olathe Board of Education is expected to choose on Thursday gating criteria it feels best fits the district, rather than continue to follow county guidelines.

“I think there is a lot of community pressure right now to bring students back 100 percent,” said Leigh Anne Rogers, president of Olathe National Education Association.

The district, which will hold a board meeting on Thursday, currently follows the Johnson County Department of Health’s guidelines. Under that criteria, schools are in the red zone, in which only elementary school students are able to return to the classroom. All others are being taught remotely.

The JCDHE website showed a 14-day moving average of 12.3% for the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate. That number would need to be less than 10% for students to move to a hybrid learning model, if the district follows county criteria.

“We have been making it very clear to people that in that continuum of remote learning, hybrid and in person learning, the risk increases as you go,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, JCDHE director.

If the board uses different gating criteria that allows for students to return to the classroom or participate in a hybrid environment, Rogers said that would “really change how things look for the district.”

The hybrid model has caused concern for teachers.

“The work load was very stressful,” Rogers said. “Being able to meet the needs of students both in the classroom and at home was literally double planning.”

Olathe Elementary students whose parents opted for in-person learning returned to full-time, in-person learning on Monday.

But still, Rogers said teachers are concerned about contracting COVID-19.

“Once we bring back students into the school, we can’t ensure that there won’t be cases of COVID between students or between staff and students,” Rogers said. “It just can’t be 100 percent safe,” said Rogers.

Teachers in the ONEA, according to Rogers, want consistency.

“We absolutely know that kids learn best in-person and in the classroom with their teacher,” Rogers said. “We want to get there but we have to do it when it is safe.”

And some middle and high school teachers do not see teaching in-person as a possibility yet.

“We have got to work together as a community to get the spread down so that we can bring our students and teachers back together in a safe environment,” Rogers said.

A spokesperson for Olathe Public Schools provided the following statement to 41 Action News.

On Thursday, the Olathe Public Schools Board of Education will review and determine the most appropriate set of gating criteria for the Olathe School District. The full board agenda can be viewed on our website. As our district staff has been preparing for multiple scenarios for this unique school year, district leadership continues to work with staff regarding their needs.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Thursday and can be viewed on the district’s Youtube channel.

Other districts in Johnson County, like Shawnee Mission, follow the health department criteria. But Blue Valley School District created its own.

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