USD-418 BOE discusses COVID-19 response, hybrid learning extended through Sept. 30

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By Anne Hassler Heidel

McPherson News-Ledger

The USD-418 Gating Criteria committee met Sept. 11 to discuss whether the district should continue with the current hybrid-learning model or go to full-time, face-to-face learning. Based on the standards established by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment with input and recommendations from the McPherson County Health Director Shalei Shea and chief health department advisor Dr. Sheila Gorman, the recommendation is to continue with the hybrid-learning model through the end of September.

Among the factors influencing the decision are student absenteeism, the percentage of positive cases for all tested, the number of new cases per 100K residents over the prior two weeks, the trend in the county incident rate and the available capacity of local hospitals.

The district has seen an increase in the percent of positive cases in the prior two weeks going from 8.62 percent to 14.5 percent. Within the district, there are no students that have tested positive in the last two weeks, but two staff members are actively positive. Fifteen students and 15 staff are currently quarantined due to possible exposure. Another concern is the increase in social interaction over the recent Labor Day weekend that could drive the number of positive cases up in the next two weeks.

Board member Dale Patrick said he would prefer the decision on whether to stay in hybrid or go full-time, face-to-face be made by the school board and not the Gating Criteria committee. This sentiment was echoed by board member Kim Janzen, M.D., who said the statistic needed to be vetted by the board. The committee includes two members from the Board of Education, four district administrators, a teacher representative and two medical professionals. Superintendent Shiloh Vincent said trying to convene a full school board meeting could significantly slow down the process and give teachers little notice to prepare.

Consensus among the other board members was to continue with the Gating Criteria committee.

USD-418 is the only school district in the county that has decided to not go to a full-time, face-to-face teaching model.

Supt. Vincent said the difference in the number of students in the other school districts doesn’t make for an accurate comparison with USD-418.

The Gating Criteria committee plans to meet every two weeks to determine the path for learning in USD-418 McPherson.

Vincent also announced that the State Department of Education will no longer require students and parents to fill out daily learning logs. Parents will be asked to fill out a one-time, online Remote Learning Assurances form, instead.