Lawrence school board to consider weighting system for determining virus guidance recommendation
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
The Lawrence school district may soon finalize its version of coronavirus guidance, allowing for county incidence rates for the virus to be a top statistic driving its recommendation.
It would also allow for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students to be able to attend classes in person at least part of the week, regardless of which tier of the color-coded guidance is recommended.
During its meeting on Monday, the Lawrence school board will consider authorizing a method for the district to determine how to gauge its COVID-19 gating criteria to make a recommendation on how schools should operate as the pandemic continues.
The board on Dec. 3 adopted the Kansas State Department of Education’s gating criteria for its in-house guidance system, rather than using Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s version. KSDE has five criteria — two more than the health department’s version, including the use of incidence rates and the local hospital capacity to respond to outbreaks.
However, the board has not yet agreed on how the district should use the criteria to come up with a recommendation.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis previously suggested an averaging system for the five criteria to create a recommendation, giving each of the five criteria an equal 20% share of the average.
But school board member Shannon Kimball expressed concern about the reliability of the data used for the student absenteeism piece. She noted the district’s attendance data includes counting students as present when they are quarantining at home but still able to attend class virtually, which could give a false sense of security when it comes to students being affected by the virus.
In light of her concern, the board directed district administration to craft a new method to consider the data, such as installing a weighting system that gives some criteria more weight than others. Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the district, told the Journal-World Thursday that the district continues to follow the health department’s guidance until a system can be finalized.
photo by: Kansas State Department of Education
According to a memo to the board, the district administration proposes a weighting system that gives more weight to the local incidence and positivity rates for the virus over the remaining three criteria. The breakdown shows incidence rate and positivity rate would both weigh 30% each toward the recommendation, while the remaining 40% would be split with 20% for hospital capacity, 15% for the trend in the incident rate and 5% for student absenteeism.
The weighted system means if the data for most of the criteria land in the red tiers, a green-level absenteeism rate would not hinder the guidance from making an overall red-tier recommendation, which was the case under the original averaging system.
Additionally, the board will discuss a recent change to the KSDE’s guidance recommendation model. The Kansas State Board of Education on Wednesday approved the change that allows for younger students to attend school in a hybrid in-person learning model when the recommendation is in the red tier. Previously all students were expected to move to fully remote learning when in the red tier.
Board President Kelly Jones told the Journal-World Friday that the board was aware that the change was coming, and the version it approved on Dec. 3 took that into account and no further action from the board is needed to include it.
So when the district’s guidance is in the red tier, the most severe, the recommendation would call for sixth grade through high school to move to fully remote learning, while pre-kindergarten through fifth grade would be allowed to remain in hybrid learning models.
An updated version of the recommendation table can be found in the meeting agenda posted on the district’s website, usd497.org.
In other business, the board will consider updating its 2020-21 school calendar to reflect a state board ruling to allow districts to subtract up to 20 hours of professional development for staff from its required hours of classroom instruction time.
The change to the calendar includes the district adding professional development days for faculty on Jan. 5 and 6 and extending the students’ winter break until Jan. 7.
The board will also consider its 2021 legislative priorities. A draft of a statement outlining the priorities was not available as of Friday afternoon.
The school board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday through an online conference call. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district encourages the public to watch the meeting on Midco channel 26 or online at youtube.com/USD497.
Those who want to speak during public comments at the meeting can still do so. The district asks for comments to be sent by email to PatronCommentary@usd497.org by 6 p.m. the day of the meeting. Comments can also be emailed to board members ahead of the meeting. Their contact information is available on the district’s website at usd497.org/Board.
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