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Wichita school district addresses staffing challenges as students return to classroom

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 6:20 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wichita elementary school students returned to the classroom Wednesday (Jan. 13) with students at the district’s middle schools and high schools returning in-person for two days per week in a blended-learning model that starts the week of Jan. 25. The return to in-person learners comes as the number of teachers in active quarantine has significantly dropped since November. On the first day back to the classroom for elementary students, Eyewitness News looked into how Wichita Public Schools plans to face staffing challenges that likely will resurface.

As Wichita students return to the classroom, substitute teachers will be vital to sustaining in-person learning.

“We are in a good place right now to go back to face-to-face learning,” USD 259 Guest Staff Manager Stacie McKay said. “We’ve heard from the state that they have a lot of (substitute teaching) licenses in-process right now.”

With more than 1,300 staff members out on active quarantine in November, the district wasn’t able to keep buildings open, but now, that number has dropped to about 600. Still, the United Teachers of Wichita union said it’s too soon to return to the classroom.

“In late fall, when we ended up having to go remote, we were basically pulling any adult we could find in our buildings, our administrative offices, to cover our classes. It was more like we were monitoring students instead of teaching,” said United Teachers of Wichita Union President Kimberly Howard.

Still, the district plans to bring even more students back to learn in-person. In less than two weeks, students in Wichita’s public middle schools and high schools will get to actually go to their school buildings to learn for the first time in 10 months.

“Bringing secondary teachers and students back, we know we’re probably going to have trouble with substitutes,” Howard said.

But with the hybrid model limiting that in-person time to twice per week, students separated into groups and Wednesdays kept as remote days for the middle schools and high schools, McKay said quarantined teachers will still be able to teach from home while a supervisor monitors the class. This is one option the district didn’t’ have in November.

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