Area school districts could begin academic year through on-site, hybrid learning plans; Eudora, Perry-Lecompton not yet decided

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

While Lawrence students won’t step into a classroom until at least October, some other Douglas County students could be receiving in-person education in just a few weeks.

The school districts of Baldwin City, Eudora and Perry-Lecompton are all considering plans to begin their academic years through in-person and hybrid learning — the latter option being a model that calls for some school days in the classroom and others through remote learning.

These plans all follow similar guidelines, but they’re quite different from the Lawrence school district’s plans, which will start with at least six weeks of fully remote learning. However, the Lawrence school district has created a task force that is considering how to reopen school after the remote learning period, and moving to a hybrid learning option is in consideration.

Learning plans

All three of the districts are giving parents the option to have their children start the year through fully remote learning. However, they have different plans for how their in-person instruction would be conducted — or whether it would take place at all — and two of the districts are playing it by ear.

One of those districts is Eudora. Mark Dodge, a spokesman for the district, said in an email that the district had not determined “at this time” whether the school year will start fully in-person, fully remote or with a hybrid option.

“That decision will be made as we get closer to the start date while following the direction and guidance of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department,” Dodge said.

Dodge did outline one possible way the district could start the year: a split hybrid model, which has students attend school two days per week and then take classes remotely for the rest of the time.

Under that plan, Dodge said the district would split the student population in half, with each half attending school on different days to reduce the number of people in school buildings at once. On-site school days will be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, while Wednesdays will have all students learning remotely, he said.

Similarly, Perry-Lecompton hasn’t yet decided how it will start the year — that will depend on how the pandemic progresses. In a recent video, Superintendent J.B. Elliott outlined a three-pronged plan for the school district that offers either in-person, hybrid, or fully remote learning.

The three options are guided by the amount of spread of the coronavirus in the area. In the “low/no spread” scenario, all classes will be held in person, unless a parent chooses for their child to attend fully remote learning. In the second “minimal/moderate spread” scenario, classes will be hybrid, with the possibility of an alternating in-person schedule for students like the Eudora plan. Finally, in the “substantial spread” scenario, all classes will be through remote learning, similar to how the 2019-2020 school year ended.

The district said in a news release on its website that it will decide by Wednesday which scenario it’s starting under. A full explanation of the three-pronged plan is posted on the school district’s website,

Baldwin City Superintendent Paul Dorathy, on the other hand, said his district is planning to offer in-person classes from the very start of the semester, although parents will still be able to opt for remote learning if they choose.

For those who choose the in-person option, Baldwin City’s pre-K through sixth grade classes will be on-site daily in “self-contained cohorts,” and grades 7 through 12 will attend every other day to decrease the number of students in the buildings, Dorathy said.

Start dates

While the finer points of the reopening plans may differ, some of the area school districts will be beginning the academic year around the same time.

Both Baldwin City and Eudora plan for school to start in September. Baldwin City will begin on Sept. 9, while Eudora will start with half days on Sept. 3 and Sept. 4 and then move to a full-day schedule on Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. As the Journal-World has reported previously, the Lawrence school district will begin on Sept. 8.

Those plans coincide with a timeline that the governor has pushed for. Last month, Gov. Laura Kelly issued an order that would have postponed the beginning of the school year until after Labor Day to give school districts more time to work on reopening plans. However, the Kansas State Board of Education declined to make the order a statewide mandate, leaving each school district to make the decision for its own community.

Perry-Lecompton is an example of a school district that diverged from the governor’s plan. Instead of starting in September, Perry-Lecompton delayed the school year by only a week. According to a notice on the district’s website, Perry-Lecompton’s classes will begin on Aug. 19.

Health department guidance

While all of the school districts have separate reopening plans, they are all working with the local health department on enacting them.

Recently, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced it had created the Education Unified Command, which aims to help address issues related to conducting school during a pandemic. Some of the goals of the Unified Command are minimizing disease spread, reducing community impacts and protecting students, staff and faculty, the Journal-World has reported.

Some of the group’s goals include establishing common protocols for outbreak response and closures. When explaining his district’s reopening plan, Dorathy said Baldwin City would be prepared to follow the team’s guidance, such as shifting to fully online learning if the health department orders a school closed for a COVID-19 outbreak.

George Diepenbrock, a spokesman for the health department, said all Douglas County school districts are being represented in the Education Unified Command discussions. Additionally, as its district is split between Douglas and Jefferson counties, Perry-Lecompton is also working with the Jefferson County Health Department, according to its plan outline.

Another of the Education Unified Command’s goals is to create a uniform set of reopening standards. However, Diepenbrock declined to provide any such guidelines to the Journal-World. He said the plan is still in “draft form” and under review.

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