Lawrence school district to begin 2021 with hybrid in-person learning before updating guidance

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence students will begin learning in the new year the same way they ended 2020 — through hybrid in-person learning.

However, that decision was not based on updated guidance provided by the district’s recently installed gating criteria. The district’s new method to decide how school should be conducted during the coronavirus pandemic won’t be put to use for the first time until at least next week.

The district announced through a social media post on Saturday that it will begin with hybrid in-person learning on Thursday, when students return from winter break. Lawrence’s hybrid model has elementary and middle school students attend in-person classes twice a week, while high school students attend in-person classes once a week. The rest of the time, the students learn remotely.

That model is the same learning method the district used last month before taking nearly three weeks off for the district’s annual winter break. District spokeswoman Julie Boyle said Monday that the district’s guidance has not been updated in recent weeks because of the break.

“When school resumes for students on Thursday, our schools will be using the same hybrid model in place prior to winter recess,” Boyle said in an email. “This will give staff time to plan for any necessary adjustments.”

The Lawrence school board officially adopted the criteria and recommendation procedure during its meeting on Dec. 14. The district’s system collects data for five criteria related to the spread of the virus in the community and school district. That data is then put into a weighted system — giving some criteria more weight than others — to come up with an average rating, which then provides a learning method recommendation.

Boyle previously said that the data would be updated on Thursdays and the recommendation would then be put to use the following Monday.

Apart from the initial data that was provided to the board when the guidance and criteria were adopted, the data has only been updated once, on Dec. 17. As the Journal-World reported at the time, the guidance provided a 1.9 average rating, which recommends that the district use its yellow tier guidance. The yellow tier recommends hybrid learning and prohibition of “high risk” athletics and activities. But that guidance update was not put to use because school was out for the winter break the following Monday.

While the district hasn’t updated its own criteria, its decision to continue using hybrid in-person learning this week aligns with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s most recently updated guidance. The health department last week announced that its recommendation would remain in its yellow tier for another week, suggesting schools should use either hybrid or fully in-person learning.

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