Missouri school districts wrestle with dilemma of reopening
KANSAS CITY — While teachers from one suburban Kansas City school district plan to protest the resumption of in-person classes, parents from another a few miles away are protesting because their kids aren't going back to school.
The competing sentiments in Independence and Lee's Summit illustrate the debate over whether schools should reopen with in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 people nationwide and infected more than 5.5 million.
The debate over whether to resume in-person instruction is playing out throughout the U.S., and some districts that opted to bring students back to school have already seen outbreaks of COVID-19. In Georgia, Creekview High School in Canton on Sunday suspended in-person learning through Aug. 31 after 25 students tested positive and 500 of the 1,800 students taking in-person classes at the school were quarantined.
Most districts near Kansas City plan to begin classes after Labor Day, and much of it online-only. The district in Independence plans to start Monday, with most students there in person, the Kansas City Star reported.
Teachers can opt out, but without pay. Some believe it's too soon to return to class. They plan to protest Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Lee's Summit district plans to wait until Sept. 8 to start the school year, and classes will be online-only until health officials say the COVID-19 count is under control in Jackson County.
Some Lee's Summit parents staged a rally at district offices Wednesday. They expressed concern that there could be a rise in child suicides or other problems because kids have been out of school for too long.
"We have leaders who don't want to be responsible for COVID spread and they don't want to be responsible for child deaths from suicide. We need our kids back in school," said April Wilkins, a member of the parent group Open Our Jackson County Schools.
Parents at the rally shouted, "Zoom is not a classroom" and "Sitting at home is not a way for students to learn."
In Independence, some teachers say their classrooms are too small to properly maintain social distance. They also say the district is not requiring high school classrooms to be cleaned between classes.
"I am not saying that we don't have some teachers who are nervous," said Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl. "But our focus right from the start has always been about safety."
He assured families "that we have taken every single precaution."
Like most other districts, Independence gave families a choice, and about 30% of middle and high school students opted to learn completely online. Most others will return on a hybrid schedule to make room for social distancing, with half receiving in-person instruction one week while the other half learns online and then the groups switching the following week.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities are taking steps to keep students safe. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that campus leaders this week admonished students that their behavior could lead to a shutdown of in-person classes.
"We are concerned because we know some of our students have attended off-campus parties, hosted on-campus parties, left quarantine to spend time with friends, crowded together and socialized, in small and large groups, without masks," according to a letter to students from interim Provost Mike Lewis and interim Vice President Debra Rudder Lohe.
Fraternity rush at the University of Missouri-Columbia moved online Wednesday, according to the school's interfraternity council. In-person classes at at the school start Monday.