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Wichita Public Schools approves plan for students to return to classroom

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 1:36 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wichita Public Schools students will return to in-person learning, some this week. In a 5-2 vote, the board approved a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Alicia Thompson that returns elementary students to in-person learning on Wednesday (Jan. 13) and gradually gets students in middle schools and high schools to at least meeting in-person part-time as part of a blended, onsite (hybrid) learning model in which students will mix time each week in the classroom and learning remote. Starting Jan. 25 under the blended onsite model for students at the middle school and high school levels, students with last names that start with letters A through L would be onsite on Mondays and Tuesdays and remote on Thursday and Friday. Students with last names that start with letters M through Z would be remote on Monday and Tuesday and onsite on Thursdays and Fridays. Every student in the blended model would be remote on Wednesdays.

Ahead of Monday night’s meeting, the district said thanks to mostly stable COVID-19 numbers and ramped up the availability of testing, the board could vote to make these changes. The district shared data that shows an overall decrease in positive COVID-19 cases and active quarantines when compared with numbers released in late November.

The return to in-person learning will come in phases.

  • Jan. 12: Elementary teachers return to prepare for onsite learning.
  • Jan. 13: Elementary students return to onsite learning.
  • Jan. 13: Middle school and high school teachers return to school buildings to teach remotely
  • Jan. 14: Pre-K teachers and students return onsite learning
  • Jan. 25: Middle and high school students begin remote and in-person hybrid model. Students will be divided into groups which will indicate what days students will be learning in-person or remotely.

Wichita Public Schools Board of Education President Sheril Logan said she’s heard from teachers, parents, students and community members. She said the board’s final decision would be based on data from the county and input from the community.

“We will be presenting the data (Monday) night, our gating criteria, as well as several other kinds of data with staff quarantines and so on,” Logan said last week. “We’ll also be talking about being able to do testing for our staff so that we won’t have to quarantine as much, and we’re just going to look at all the data and try and make the best decisions that we can.”

Following Monday’s decision, Eyewitness News heard reactions from students parents in the Wichita school district. Some think it’s not safe to go back while others think the return to the classroom is needed.

For students in Wichita middle schools and high schools, it’s been a long 10 months since they attended classes in-person.

“If you told me last year that this is what my senior year would be like, I’d call you crazy,” East High School senior Aaron Eakins said. Even with the challenges of having to learn from home and missing out on school-related activities, he’s making the best of the situation.

“I’ve really been focusing on doing things, working on new skills that I didn’t have time for before,” he said.

Aaron’s mother, Joy Eakins said the changes and uncertainty surrounding to the COVID-19 pandemic have been stressful.

“There’s a lot of extra support that they need right now in order to make sure that they’re in classes, to get them lunch and breakfast every day,” she said.

Wichita mother Brenda Jimenez said the classroom is the best place for her two sons to be.

“They get frustrated all day, being home all day, and they just want to go out,” she said.

United Teachers of Wichita Union President Kimberly Howard said even though most teachers also want to be back in the classroom, there are steps that need to be taken for that to happen safely.

“We want to get teachers vaccinated, we want to wait and see if the surge happens,” said said. “I don’t think it’s going to do children any good to bring them back to school, and then in two weeks, have a huge surge like we did after Thanksgiving, and then sending them home again.”

Terri Moses, Director of Safety and Environmental Services for Wichita Public Schools, said this year has had its challenges, which has required the district to be flexible and to adjust quickly to changes.

“During this pandemic, we’ve learned the term of the day is... pivot,” said Moses.

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