More Kansas City area districts are warning families that school closures are likely as COVID-19 outbreaks continue, causing massive staff shortages.
Both the Park Hill and Raymore-Peculiar districts are the latest to send letters to parents, telling them to prepare for schools to close if employee absences continue to spike.
Park Hill officials said in a letter to families Thursday that the district has more than 200 staff members out with illness, and is only able to cover 54% of those positions with substitutes.
“This is more than we have ever seen in the history of the Park Hill School District,” officials said.
“As illness numbers continue to rise, we are reaching a breaking point. If we do not have enough staff to properly supervise our students, we cannot have school.”
In Raymore-Peculiar on Wednesday, Superintendent Mike Slagle told families: “Given the current trajectory in the number of positive COVID-19 cases and the lack of available staff to backfill key positions, there is the possibility we may be forced to close a classroom or facilities for a temporary period of time. I assure you that this is our last choice to deal with the issue before us, and we will do everything in our power to prevent closures.
“I do not write this to alarm you, but to be fully transparent about this potential situation and ask you to think about a personal contingency plan should a temporary closure become necessary.”
Many other districts, including Blue Valley, North Kansas City and Shawnee Mission, have warned families that school closures are likely.
And several already have been forced to close school doors.
Students in both the Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas, districts returned Thursday after school closures this week.
On Wednesday, the Odessa school district, east of Kansas City, announced that it would hold classes virtually on Thursday and Friday, using the limited number of hours granted by the state for remote learning.
The St. Joseph school district canceled all classes this week. And the Knob Noster school district, in Johnson County, Missouri, on Wednesday extended school closures through Friday, after first closing last Friday. The nearby Warrensburg district also canceled classes on Thursday and Friday.
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.
While some districts, such as Odessa, are using up those hours during this COVID surge, others have opted to cancel classes. Those districts are using days built into the calendar, for emergencies such as inclement weather, to close schools. But if closures continue, it’s likely that the end of the school year could be extended to make up for the lost instruction hours.
In its notice to families on Thursday, Park Hill officials said that the system would not pivot to remote learning.
“This would mean everything would close — our schools, our Park Hill Online Academy, our offices, our childcare programs, our tuition preschool, our athletics, our activities and our events,” they said.
The Raymore-Peculiar district laid out a different plan. Officials said the district would first try to temporarily move secondary schools to online-only classes.
“Doing so will allow us to reallocate some staff members and attempt to keep our elementary schools open for in-person learning as long as possible,” Slagle said. “If we find that critical staffing shortages are still present after our secondary schools have moved to a virtual learning environment, we will then move to a full Early Childhood through 12th-grade short-term virtual learning environment.”
He said that plan depends on the availability of bus drivers and other support staff. Moving the entire district to virtual learning, or closing individual buildings with high student absentee rates, are other possibilities.
The district already sent elementary students home with devices so they are prepared for a potential move to remote learning.
Officials in both districts said that they are doing everything possible to staff schools.
“We’ve had custodians answering phones and everyone with the proper certification has been covering classrooms, from our specials teachers to our instructional coaches to our building and district administrators. This means that we haven’t been able to provide some key services,” Park Hill officials said.
Slagle said that teachers are “covering for each other during their plan periods, but other staff members are also filling key positions throughout the school day. This includes all of our non-classroom instructional staff, principals and assistant principals, district office staff, as well as many substitute teachers as we can find to help cover classes.”
He said that everyone from custodians to school nurses, bus drivers, food service workers and childcare staff are working overtime to try to fill positions and maintain operations.
“Though we have been able to accomplish the task to this point, it has taken an incredible effort on the part of every staff member in this organization,” he said. “I am hopeful we can continue to meet this challenge, but each day is becoming increasingly difficult.”