Some Eudora, Perry-Lecompton students returning to remote learning as COVID-19 cases rise

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

Story updated at 3:52 p.m. Wednesday

Two school districts serving Douglas County students are set to again use remote learning as COVID-19 cases in the area continue to rise. And based on recently released data, it’s possible the other two school districts in the county will be joining them soon.

Officials for Eudora and Perry-Lecompton school districts announced this week that some of their students will move to remote learning, with Eudora High School beginning Wednesday and Perry-Lecompton students in seventh grade and up beginning on Monday. Both districts said those students would stay in that method of learning through Nov. 24, which is the last day before their Thanksgiving breaks. The earliest those students could move back to a form of in-person learning is Nov. 30.

The action from the districts comes as they both have experienced several students contracting COVID-19 in the last two weeks. Additionally, Douglas County as a whole has seen a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The Eudora school district received direction from Lawrence-Douglas Public Health to have its high school go to fully remote learning because of an outbreak in the school. In a message to the district community on Tuesday, Eudora Superintendent Steve Splichal said the school has three positive cases and two other cases awaiting lab results.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we will be moving from our current modified in-person instructional model to remote learning for all Eudora High School students, as an effort to break the chain of transmission,” Splichal said in the message.

Meanwhile, Perry-Lecompton Superintendent J.B. Elliott said in an email to the district community that Perry-Lecompton was making a change after seeing “unfavorable” virus trends in both Douglas and Jefferson counties. The school district has also had five students contract the virus since Nov. 2, according to the district’s website.

In light of the trends, Elliott said the Perry-Lecompton district would move to its “orange” method of learning, which includes remote classes for students in seventh grade and up and a hybrid learning model for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“We know this is a hardship for many of our parents of younger students,” Elliott said in the email. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. It is a goal of USD #343 to have our students return to the classroom as soon as possible.”

The two other school districts in Douglas County, Baldwin City and Lawrence, are both currently using hybrid learning methods. However, according to their websites, they also have several students with active cases of COVID-19.

Baldwin City has reported five cases among students and staff since Nov. 2, with two of those students attending school remotely this semester. Lawrence has reported 20 cases of the virus among students and staff since Nov. 2, with 17 of them coming from staff members.

Baldwin Superintendent Paul Dorathy said the cases in his district aren’t leading to any changes just yet.

“Presently, our district is not feeling the latest uptick in our schools,” Dorathy said in an email to the Journal-World. “Yes, we have had cases that do not originate in the district that have forced some quarantining, but we are not being affected by outbreaks in our buildings.”

The Lawrence school district also has not made any changes yet. On Monday, the district finished its weeks-long transition to hybrid learning, with the entire district using that learning method for the first time this semester. The district started the school year with six weeks of remote learning.

The district won’t make a decision on how school will operate next week until after it sees the health department’s updated virus guidance, which is scheduled to be released Thursday, spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World Wednesday. Additionally, Boyle said Lawrence school board President Kelly Jones has called a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss the guidance with health department officials.

The department’s guidance last week was in the yellow tier, which calls for hybrid learning and the prohibition of “high risk” activities for schools throughout the county. But the key indicators for the guidance — the county’s average number of new COVID-19 cases and the county’s average positivity rate for the virus — have both been increasing in recent weeks.

On Monday, the health department’s reports showed both indicators had passed thresholds — a higher than 10% positivity rate and an increasing average number of cases — that would send the guidance into its orange or red tiers, both of which call for schools to use fully remote learning methods.

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