LETTER: School chaos

Bernd Ingram

To the editor:

Our local schools are a reflection of the chaos of COVID-19 times. Decisions on how to reopen should be based on what’s best for our children. With the decisions that have been made locally, complainers are many and supporters are few.

National experts have finally told us that having kids in school is more important for their well-being than the risks of COVID-19 have turned out to be. All the local districts appear to have given parents who have high risk situations or are fearful of sending their kids to school an option to home school or do online only.

I applaud Fort Leavenworth and Lansing for putting children’s needs first while still considering the science of what we now know about COVID-19. At the Board of Education (BOE) level, and supported by the superintendent on the fort, they have opted for kids to either be in school or at home if the virus situation warrants it. They are monitoring the virus impacts locally and making the best decisions for their districts rather than falling in line with recommended (but not required) county health officer proposed gating criteria that were limited initially when published Aug. 7. After revision Aug. 26, these criteria still did not align directly with the Kansas state BOE recommended school gating criteria, and county criteria probably won’t reflect most district situations with COVID-19 anyway. The county health officer has stated that he won’t be closing schools, and will leave that to the BOEs. Depending on outbreaks and risks, the two districts can decide on kids at home or maybe even shutter one particular school rather than the whole district.

In Basehor and Leavenworth, they are doing things differently. Leavenworth’s plan to open began with kids in seats after Labor Day, but with two prior weeks of 50/50 to see how things would go. A small outbreak at the high school and a few cases among scattered staff, they are now trying to implement the holy grail of educating during COVID-19 – the often talked about, phantom hybrid plan.

Their hybrid as it stands today will send kids to school two alternating days each week, task them to do work at home the other two and have a day off from kindergarten through 12th grade. Chromebooks will come home even with kindergarteners so they can virtual school themselves with their parents or with whoever is caring for them and maybe without the ability to connect to the internet. With a family of two working parents, or single parents, who is going to make school happen for kids on days they are at home and parents aren’t? Maybe grandpa, grandma, nanny or a neighbor friend, if there is one. And the little ones need structure, routine, familiarity, reinforcement and consistency. Sending a lower elementary child to school on Monday, having them do virtual on Tuesday, be off on Wednesday and back on Thursday (or the other half of kids on a Tuesday, off Wednesday, virtual Thursday, back Friday schedule) is just asking for more chaos for kids, families and even teachers.

Basehor has chosen, last I heard, to do kids in seats at the elementary level and hybrid at higher levels. This generally aligns with the state BOE gating proposal and looks like the Leavenworth 50/50 at upper levels, with older kids in school two days and having to check in on their computers or tech devices every hour for at least two virtual days. Fort Leavenworth and Lansing have no hybrid. Lansing voted this option down, which like with many other schools, was really only an idea on paper.

No one at the national or state level has handed down hybrid plans for local districts to use because they didn’t exist. And the districts that are using some sort of hybrid are developing it as they go.

Hardly any districts, even in other surrounding counties, had any real plans on how to do this by the end of the summer, nor did they have their teachers ready to execute.

Trying to do this chaotic hybrid only frustrates kids, parents and even teachers and administrators. While a couple contact days with kids is probably better than none educationally speaking, ultimately the protection for kids and staff from a child or staffer bringing in the virus will likely prove to be marginal.