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Return to classroom comes with tight restrictions in Wichita public schools

Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 5:50 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - As COVID-19 cases and rates begin to decline in Kansas and Sedgwick County, the state’s largest school district on Monday (Jan. 25) began bringing some students back into classrooms for the first time in nearly a year, since Spring Break of last year. Students in Wichita’s public middle schools and high schools are now learning in their new hybrid model, attending school in-person twice per week.

While there are trends in the right direction, some Wichita teachers still have hesitations as Sedgwick County still is reporting hundreds of new cases each week. For others, the feeling of a return to teaching students at school is surreal, especially after all that teachers and students sacrificed over the last year.

The biggest hurdle moving forward is getting teachers and their students vaccinated. Until that happens, Wichita Public Schools will continue to require social distancing and masks inside of its buildings.

“It just feels weird. You don’t see all your friends. Everybody is spread out. No one is really talking and dapping up like we usually do,” said Wichita Northwest High School senior Kaleb Coleman of the return to school.

Fellow Northwest senior Rilee Jerke said “this is not what (he) expected” for his final year of high school.

“I expected many things, prom, homecoming, my last musical. I didn’t get to perform in my last musical,” Jerke said.

While Northwest High School students are among many in Wichita who lost once-in-a-lifetime opportunities during remote learning, it makes some value the classroom even more.

“I loved school before, but I like it a lot more now, which sounds so weird because a lot of high schoolers don’t. But I do because I had a good time and I had good grades,” Jerke said.

Precautions against COVID-19 will likely continue through the end of the spring semester with older students in Wichita in the hybrid learning model. For now, students are divided into two groups, learning twice per week in class and three days per week from home.

A timeline for when all students return to the classroom full-time depends on vaccine distribution. Teachers are included in Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution plan. And while Sedgwick County is in Phase 2, a limited supply of the vaccine makes it unclear as to when Wichita teachers will get their first shots.

“We wanted to take precautions, bring students back at a slower pace until we have that vaccine in our homes,” Wichita Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Alicia Thompson said. “And then we will be ready to talk about what’s next for the Wichita public schools, and again, we know that it’s going to take a while to get vaccines in.”

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