How Lawrence school district will begin 2020-2021 academic year still undecided

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence Public Schools

Lawrence Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield speaks during the Lawrence school board meeting on Monday, July 13, 2020.

With about a month left before school is scheduled to begin, it is unclear whether Lawrence students will return to their school buildings this fall.

Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said during the Lawrence school board’s meeting on Monday that the district has not yet made any decisions on whether it will reopen school buildings for the 2020-2021 school year, which is scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 17. She said she had to make that clear because some parents seem to believe the district has already decided to have students return to school buildings.

“No decisions have been made on how school will look like on Aug. 17,” Stubblefield said. “There have been a lot of questions that we don’t have the answers to and we are still navigating,” she added.

In March, the state closed school buildings for the final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year as a response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which led to schools across the state finishing the academic year through remote learning. Stubblefield said it’s possible the new academic year could begin that way, rather than immediately returning to school buildings. She said the school district plans to meet with county health officials near the end of July to assess the situation, and the district hopes to have an understanding by the first week of August on how the 2020-2021 year will begin.

Some of the school board members said they believed the school district needed to consider at least a hybrid option, which would allow some students to begin the school year through remote learning and others in school buildings.

Stubblefield’s comments came as part of a school district task force’s initial report about its examination of how to begin the year. The task force, which was created in early June, consists of more than 200 district and school administrators, curriculum and instructional coaches, and teachers representing various grade levels, subject areas and specialties, according to the district’s website. They are examining many aspects of reopening, such as how to keep schools clean and safe during the pandemic, among many other issues.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Protesters opposing plans to reopen schools in the fall during the coronavirus pandemic hold signs outside the Lawrence school district’s administrative offices on Monday, July 13, 2020.

However, before the task force’s report, many Lawrence parents and teachers expressed their opposition to reopening school buildings during the public comment period and through protesting outside the school district’s administrative offices.

Some who wrote emails to the board, which were read to the public by the board members, specifically asked the district to not allow the reopening of school buildings until the community has gone 14 days without a new coronavirus case. On Monday, Douglas County reported it has seen 33 new cases since Friday, with a total of 183 active cases. Several said they believe the school district should at least begin the school year through remote learning.

“Opening schools should not be considered until we’ve flattened the curve, and even then it should not be at full capacity,” one resident wrote to the board.

Sandy Theilen, a special education teacher at Hillcrest Elementary, and her son Jackson Theilan, a recent graduate of Lawrence High School, were among the protesters. They said they did not support the opening of schools this fall because it could put the lives of teachers, students and their families at risk.

“I’m very concerned about going back into buildings,” Sandy said.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis thanked the public for speaking out on the issue, adding that he and the task force share their concerns.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and well being of our students and staff,” he said. “I know we can come together in creating a plan that will benefit our scholars and benefit our staff while keeping them safe.”

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Protesters who oppose school buildings opening in the fall during the coronavirus pandemic place signs on their cars to share their message outside the Lawrence school district’s administrative offices on Monday, July 13, 2020.

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