During hybrid learning, Lawrence and Eudora districts let employees send their children to school 4 days a week

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

A provision in the Lawrence and Eudora school districts’ hybrid learning plans allows school staff and faculty members to send their children to in-person classes more often than the general public.

But schools officials said such a measure is necessary as a form of child care for faculty and staff — and that without it, all students could be forced to return to fully remote learning.

During hybrid learning this fall, the Lawrence school district has used a model that had students attend classes in person either once or twice a week and then attend classes virtually for the rest of the week. But the district has allowed faculty and staff members to send their children to school in person four days a week. Eudora’s schools have also been allowing children of faculty and staff members to attend in-person classes four days a week during hybrid learning.

Some parents in the Lawrence district have been calling for schools to shift further over to in-person learning, prompting questions about the fairness of the district’s policy regarding teachers’ children.

But spokespeople for the Lawrence and Eudora school districts told the Journal-World that the extra in-person days for district employees’ children is essential to how the in-person learning plans work. Specifically, they said that it was intended to give faculty and staff with children a form of child care, and that many staff members would not be able to do their jobs if they had to stay home and take care of their children.

“Without our teachers and support staff, the school district cannot provide educational services and support to the children of the Lawrence community,” Lawrence school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World. “(The) classroom accommodations we are making now in the hybrid model are necessary to enable our employees to perform this essential work.”

Earlier this year, when school districts were working with Douglas County’s Unified Command, a committee focused on child care suggested that public organizations employing essential workers should find ways to help provide child care. That led to the Lawrence school district offering student support centers during the first six weeks of school, when all classes were held remotely. Those centers provided faculty and staff with some child care support. Then, when classes transitioned to hybrid in-person learning, the district started using the four-day in-person learning provision for faculty and staff, Boyle said.

“The goal is to support their needs so they can continue to serve our community,” Boyle said.

The Lawrence district did not say how many children of faculty and staff were attending classes four days a week.

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It’s not just children of faculty and staff members getting extra in-person days. Both the Lawrence and Eudora districts allow the extra days for students with special needs. And Eudora often extends them to even more students.

Unlike Lawrence schools, where most students only attend in-person school two days per week, the Eudora district has a modified in-person model that sometimes allows all students — or all students at a certain grade level — to attend school in person four days a week. Early in the fall semester, the Eudora school board approved its modified hybrid model and all students began attending schools in person four days a week, rather than the initial plan of attending just twice a week.

Because of COVID-19 outbreaks in the community, the district has had to move away from that method a few times or alter it for certain grade levels. District spokesman Mark Dodge said that all elementary and middle school students attended in-person classes for four days this past week, while high school students had two days in the classroom. While 60 of the district’s high school students were granted permission to attend four days a week, only 17 of them are the children of faculty and staff using the child care provision, he said.

Dodge said the district allows the faculty and staff child care provision for the same reason as Lawrence. He noted that many of the district’s employees — including bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals and others — would not be able to do their jobs if they needed to take leave to care for their children.

“We made a decision to allow staff children to attend all four days of the hybrid model at the start of the school year to ensure our daily operations will function in order to maximize the opportunities for in-person learning for students,” Dodge said in an email. “If these operations are not functional, we are forced to move into a remote learning situation for all students.”

Not all districts are providing extra days of in-person instruction for children of faculty and staff members. In the Baldwin City school district, Superintendent Paul Dorathy said all students who are attending in-person classes follow the same model.

However, Baldwin City’s hybrid learning model this fall also allows its younger students to attend classes in person every day. Under its COVID-19 learning model, pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students attend in-person classes on a daily basis, but they’re separated into cohorts. Students from seventh through 12th grades attend hybrid in-person classes twice a week. Dorathy said this model likely led to fewer parents in the Baldwin City community needing to find child care for their young children.

“At this time we do have (teachers’) children on the same schedule as all students. No delineation,” Dorathy said in an email to the Journal-World.

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