One in 10 students quarantined in Wichita as COVID-19 surges through classrooms

Wichita Public Schools USD 259
·2 min read

Positive COVID-19 cases and quarantine numbers have surpassed previous highs among students and staff at Wichita Public Schools.

Nearly one in 10 Wichita Public Schools students are in quarantine for exposure to the coronavirus as of Friday, according to a report released by the school district.

Approximately 8.5% of USD 259 employees were also quarantined.

Those numbers represent the highest numbers on record and illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated in the Wichita area.

School district officials warned parents Thursday that schools could close due to a teacher shortage. The Kansas Board of Education lowered qualifications for substitute teachers earlier this week as an emergency measure to try to keep students in classes.

Positive cases among Wichita students more than doubled the previous high (522) from the week of Sept. 1. This week, 1,117 students tested positive for COVID. That’s more than 2% of the district’s roughly 47,200 students.

Positive cases among Wichita Public Schools staff climbed from 172 cases to 301. That’s nearly 4% of the district’s 7,632 employees infected with COVID.

The high number of cases led to more exposures, the district report shows. 4,535 students and 646 employees were quarantined as of Friday, meaning they could not attend classes or work in-person.

“Our district is facing a staffing crisis because of the community spread of COVID following the holidays,” Superintendent Alicia Thompson told parents in a Tuesday email. “Most significantly, we are closely monitoring school data to determine whether staffing challenges due to COVID warrant consideration of temporary school closure.”

The COVID surge in Wichita classrooms mirrors that in the community at large, which is seeing the highest number of new cases and hospitalization since the pandemic began as variants omicron and delta sweep through Wichita. City and county leaders have said they do not plan to pass any emergency public health measures aimed at slowing the spread.

Gov. Laura Kelly was the first governor in the nation to close schools in 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But she has since signed into law a bill requiring schools to offer an in-person learning option for all students.

School districts have been thrust unto the front lines of a political battle over COVID restrictions, including mask mandates and vaccines, after federal, state and county government bodies have punted public health decisions to local school boards.

Wichita Public Schools has had a mask mandate in place for students, staff and visitors since August 30. The Wichita school board passed it in response to a rise in cases and quarantines. At the time, COVID infections and quarantine numbers were far lower than they are now.

But three new school board members — Diane Albert, Hazel Stabler and Kathy Bond — could attempt to overturn the district mask policy. The board’s first meeting of the year was suspended when they refused to mask up. The meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting