Kansas City area district to close schools this week as more staff fall ill to COVID

Tammy Ljungblad/tljungblad@kcstar.com
·2 min read

The Park Hill district will close schools on Thursday and Friday as COVID-19 outbreaks cause a staffing crisis, and as the district and others face lawsuits from the Missouri attorney general over pandemic protocols.

“As this situation continues, we cannot sustain the current pace throughout the whole week, with more and more staff falling ill,” the Northland district announced in a letter to families on Tuesday. “We will not have enough staff to properly supervise students during the school day by the end of this week.”

Park Hill officials said that schools will shut down for those two days, and that online classes will not be available.

While a few Kansas City area districts have pivoted to online-only classes recently amid COVID outbreaks, including the Belton and Odessa districts, Park Hill officials said they don’t have enough staff to cover virtual learning.

Both Missouri and Kansas placed restrictions on remote learning for this school year. In Missouri, if a class or building must temporarily close, districts can submit a plan to the state, which could allow them up to 36 hours of alternative instruction, such as remote learning. Kansas allows 40 hours of remote learning per student.

Instead of moving classes online, some other districts have canceled school for a few days. The Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas, districts, for example, closed schools for part of last week. Others, including Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Raymore-Peculiar, are warning families to prepare for potential closures.

Meanwhile, Park Hill and many other Kansas City area districts are facing lawsuits from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt for maintaining a mask mandate. A Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, the attorney general has made overturning local mask rules a central goal of his office and part of a core campaign promise to fight government overreach.

Since December, he had been threatening legal action against districts that have pandemic protocols. Many districts have defended their mask mandates and COVID rules, saying they have the legal authority to enact them.

As it shuts down schools later this week, Park Hill is encouraging parents to keep their children home from school if they are sick. And it is also putting out a call for substitute teachers, as it and other districts struggle to staff buildings. Both Missouri and Kansas have temporarily loosened requirements for substitute teachers so they no longer need any college credit.

“We understand that this will be incredibly challenging for our families, so we want you to know that we exhausted every option before we got to this,” officials said. “We will continue to monitor the situation to try to make the best decisions possible for our students, our staff and our families.”

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