Kansas City area school district moves online for rest of week due to COVID spread

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

A Kansas City metro school district is moving classes online for the rest of the week, with officials hoping to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 after facing high rates of staff and student absences.

The Odessa school district, east of Kansas City, on Wednesday announced that it would hold classes virtually on Thursday and Friday. Activities and athletics will continue as scheduled, officials said. And students are expected to return to classrooms on Monday.

We will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and staff. These decisions are made in an effort to help facilitate a safe and healthy learning environment,” officials said in the announcement.

Meanwhile, the St. Joseph school district, which has been closed since Tuesday, canceled classes through the end of this week. And the Knob Noster school district, in Johnson County, Missouri, on Wednesday extended school closures through Friday “due to a large number of staff and student absences/illnesses.” The district first closed schools last Friday.

Unlike Odessa, neither of those districts will hold virtual classes.

Last year, Kansas City area districts pivoted to online-only classes during COVID-19 outbreaks, but they are left with fewer options this school year. Both Missouri and Kansas placed restrictions on remote learning, and breaking the rules could mean risking state funding.

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.

In its announcement Wednesday, Odessa officials said they would use Alternative Method of Instruction, or AMI, hours, for virtual classes. Most districts in similar situations, though, have canceled classes entirely amid the COVID-19 surge, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

As districts struggle to keep schools open due to staffing shortages and ongoing virus outbreaks, the Missouri State Teachers Association is advocating for relief from those restrictions.

“Missouri schools should be allotted additional AMI days to allow them to close when necessary without being penalized,” Executive Director Bruce Moe wrote in a letter last week.

“The importance of flexibility and grace cannot be overstated to ensure student learning and the health of communities. Policy makers, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must step up and lead on these issues. School districts and employees are looking for direction and support.”

In Kansas, the state Legislature passed a law restricting remote learning to no more than 40 hours per student.

Both the Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas, districts canceled school Tuesday and Wednesday because they did not have enough employees to staff buildings. Students in those districts were expected to return on Thursday.

Olathe Superintendent Brent Yeager said in a letter to families that with so few staff members available, even remote learning would not be possible.

“As many of you know, this year the state allows up to 40 hours of remote learning. Unfortunately, at this time, with the volume of staff illnesses we are unable to conduct remote learning,” he wrote.

Last week, the Bonner Springs Edwardsville school district in Wyandotte County canceled classes on Thursday and Friday, saying a quarter of students were out sick. And the De Soto district, in Johnson County, along with the Eudora district in neighboring Douglas County, canceled classes on Friday.

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