Board approves new calendar, discusses vaccinations on first day of fully in-person reopening

As secondary schools returned to full capacity, the board made minor logistical changes to the Coming Back Together plan


By Hannah Chern

Superintendent Frank Harwood speaks to students during a 2018 interview.

Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

The school board approved next year’s calendar, discussed staff vaccinations, and made minor changes to the Coming Back Together plan at their regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Feb. 1. 

On the first day of fully in-person learning for secondary schools this year, superintendent Frank Harwood also shared an update on the logistics of the program. 

In reopening fully, middle and high schools have been forced to adapt: Harwood shared a few examples, including the conversion of gymnasiums to makeshift lunchrooms, while also acknowledging that all recommended CDC safety precautions could not possibly be followed in the fully in-person model. 

“At full capacity, our ability to socially distance is decreased,” Harwood said. “In the classroom, we know that students will no longer be six feet apart.”

Despite the lack of all safety precautions in fully in-person secondary schools, Harwood maintained that some measures such as mask wearing would be enough to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Masks are what studies have shown to be most important,” Harwood said. “Our students and staff are doing a good job with that.” 

Not everyone, though, is fully comfortable with the in-person reopening. Harwood shared that some students and teachers he’s spoken to remain hesitant and concerned about their own health and well-being. 

Teachers feel disposable and like they’re being held hostage by the board’s decisions.

— De Soto graduate Oliver Pemberton

During patron input, De Soto graduate Oliver Pemberton voiced those concerns. Citing data from a DTA survey indicating that 70 percent of DTA members do not feel comfortable returning without a vaccine, Pemberton urged the board to return to the remote model, receiving a round of applause from meeting attendees. 

“The district and county are completely unprepared to handle another COVID-19 outbreak, especially considering newer, more contagious strains,” Pemberton said. “We are the only district of this size who has changed models this frequently. We are the only district that has ignored the gating criteria. We are the only district that has modified the gating criteria… Teachers feel disposable and like they’re being held hostage by the board’s decisions.”

Vaccinations remain a priority for the district: according to Harwood, 85 to 90 percent of teachers want to receive a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Limited dose availability across Kansas, though, continues to pose a challenge. Harwood noted that the first district vaccine doses — available to special education staff who work with students unable to wear masks — will be administered Thursday, Feb. 4 and Friday, Feb. 5.

The good news is that vaccinations are starting. The bad news is that the number of vaccines is low.

— superintendent Frank Harwood

After those doses are administered, the district will prioritize staff over the age of 65 and staff with health conditions that place them at high risk for COVID-19; no timetable on vaccine availability exists, though, and the details of exactly when and how doses will be administered remain uncertain. 

“The good news is that vaccinations are starting,” Harwood said. “The bad news is that the number of vaccines is low. We’ll keep working through them as fast as we can.” 

In his update on the gating criteria committee, Harwood shared that the latest data would place the district in the “yellow” zone; after applying the modifier introduced at the board’s last meeting, though, the district moved back into the “green” zone. As a result, no recommendation to shift learning models was made. 

A few minor changes were made to the Coming Back Together plan at Harwood’s recommendation; most notably, the district will begin renting property on weekends and holidays for the first time since the initial shutdown last March. People using the rented property will be required to wear masks.

The board also approved an updated schedule for the 2021-22 school year, which adds three delayed start days to the district calendar. The full calendar can be found on page 33 of this PDF document. 

The next board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 16. 

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