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Faster-than-expected return to Wichita classrooms possible

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 5:19 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A steady drop in a key COVID-19 metric in Sedgwick County opens up the possibility that middle-and-high-school students in the Wichita school district could be allowed to go back to school in-person sooner than initially expected.

The current plan approved by the Wichita Public Schools Board of Education calls for students in sixth through 12th grades to learn remotely through the first nine weeks of the school year. It’s now possible that they could return to the classroom next month.

The key metric is the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases over a 14-day stretch. Currently, the county’s percentage of positive cases is hovering around 6 percent. School officials say they want that number to be under 5 percent consistently for at least a couple weeks before deciding that students learning remotely can safely return to school in-person.

If the school board votes to allow all students back in October, students learning in the district’s MySchool Remote program by choice, will stay remote through the first semester and have the option to return to in-person learning for the second semester. Students who chose to learn in-person before the year started, but had to start remote due to health guidelines, could return to school as soon as the board decides that it’s safe to do so.

Parents do have the choice for their children to continue with remote learning, even if guidelines open the option to return to school.

Looking at Sedgwick County’s numbers without isolated clusters such as nursing homes, shows even more so that COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction.

“Somewhere between four and five-and-a-half,” Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns said of the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the county, excluding the clusters. “So it’s great. That tells me that a large proportion of our population is abiding by the mask mandate, and the other social distancing, and all that.”

This is why, he said, it’s possible that every student in the state’s largest school district could see their teachers in-person this school year.

“Well, if this 5 percent or less holds for a couple of weeks, I think at that point, they could start seriously considering just going back to school at all levels in our county,” Dr. Minns said.

One family who spoke with Eyewitness News Thursday said they’re hopeful for the possibility of a return to some normalcy with school.

“They’re very much ready. They don’t mind the part that’s staying home, but they’re ready to get back in the school settings, in the, what we call ‘real-world settings,’ the normalcy,” said Patricia Buyno, a mother of six children who are students in the Wichita school district.

Copyright 2020 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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