Baldwin City teacher shortage could lead to school building shut down; other area schools increasing in-person instruction

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

Despite an increase of coronavirus cases among students and staff at the Baldwin City school district, schools will remain operating in a hybrid learning model for the foreseeable future.

But the district’s leader recently said schools could be on the verge of going fully remote because of a new problem caused by the ongoing pandemic – not enough substitutes to fill in for teachers who are quarantining.

That would be a departure from other other school districts in the county, which are mostly having students increase the amount of time they attend classes in person.

Baldwin City Superintendent Paul Dorathy told the Journal-World on Tuesday that the school district has a number of teachers who are in quarantine for the virus for various reasons. He said some of those reasons are related to the school, while others are for “personal reasons.”

According to the school district’s website, it has reported 15 new cases in its schools since Sept. 21. While only one of those cases has been a staff member, the district said in a Facebook post to parents that the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has provided the district with guidance on quarantining and contact tracing to limit spread of the virus.

But the district only has four substitute teachers currently, which means it is in short supply to fill quarantining teachers’ roles for in-person classes, Dorathy said.

“We are covering for now, but if we lose very many more staff members we may have to shutdown a class, or a school or possibly the district,” the district said in its message to parents.


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Dorathy said he was not sure how many more teachers the district could quarantine before a school closure is needed. But so far the district has been able to deal with the issue by having quarantining teachers appear in classes through online video conferences.

If the district can continue to use that model in the near term, it may be able to get past the quarantine time without shutting down any schools, he said.

“If we can cover with Zooming then maybe we can get by another day,” Dorathy said, referring to the online video conferencing. “But, we are at a point of finding it difficult to cover supervision for all students and maintain our mitigation procedures.”

Unlike other area schools, Baldwin City has been under the same instruction model since the beginning of the school year. It has been using a mix of in-person and a hybrid learning model, where students in prekindergarten to sixth grade have been learning fully in-person through small cohorts and students seventh grade and up have been learning through a hybrid option.

Meanwhile, Eudora recently moved to fully remote learning for its elementary school because of virus cases among students and staff. But the rest of the school district’s students will soon be going to in-person classes more often.

As the Journal-World previously reported, Eudora Elementary School notified staff and parents last week that it was going to go to a fully remote learning model after two staff members at the school tested positive for COVID-19. Two other staff members had test results pending, the district said in its announcement. The elementary school will remain in fully remote learning through Oct. 4.

However, the Eudora school board last week also voted to change its hybrid learning model for the rest of the district’s schools, choosing to remove its interchanging “AB/AB” model and allowing students to attend classes four days a week, rather than just two. Wednesdays would still see all students attend remotely, providing time for the district to clean school buildings.

Superintendent Steve Splichal told the board on Thursday that the “AB/AB” hybrid model was “unsustainable.” He said it was not good for students to be away from teachers for a total of five days, as the model had groups of students attend in-person only two days a week.

“It is not a good learning environment,” Splichal said. “I think our students struggle with the inconsistency, the isolation and lack of routine. I know for our special education population, that is only worse,” he added.

Splichal said he believed removing the AB/AB hybrid model would help the district remain in an instruction model more consistently, rather than changing the model every two weeks, as the district has ended up doing so far. The board largely agreed, voting 6-1, to move to the new 4-day hybrid plan beginning Monday.

Elsewhere, the Perry-Lecompton school district on Wednesday announced it will be moving back to fully in-person classes. The district moved to its hybrid learning option on Sept. 21, where students in seventh grade and up were split into two groups that interchangeably attended in-person classes two days a week and learned remotely the rest. However, students in pre-kindergarten to sixth grade were still attending in-person classes regularly.

Superintendent J.B. Elliott said in a message to families on Wednesday all students would return to fully in-person classes starting Monday, and the district would remain in that method through Oct. 16th.

Elliot said the school district chose to return to in-person classes because the combined Douglas County and Jefferson County average positivity rate for the virus had dropped to 5.1%. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s guidance to schools recommends fully in-person classes to be allowed when the positivity rate is 5% or below.

Additionally, the Lawrence school board earlier this week approved a plan for its schools to move to a hybrid learning option in October. The district began the school year with six weeks of fully remote learning.

After a heated discussion on Monday, the Lawrence school board narrowly approved a plan to move to its hybrid learning method on Oct. 19, when the six weeks of remote learning will conclude.

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