District chooses remote learning model for school reopening

Citing increasing COVID-19 rates in Johnson County, the district used its gating criteria to select the remote learning model


Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

It’s official: the first few weeks of the 2020 school year will take place over Zoom.

After county superintendents met with Johnson County public health officials Tuesday, Aug. 18, the district used its gating criteria to select the fully online option for elementary, middle, and high schools once schools reopen Tuesday, Sep. 8. 

“In order to open schools safely for in-person instruction, the community transmission should be moderate or low. Currently our community transmission continues to increase,” the district said in an email to staff. “Unfortunately, Johnson County has not met the threshold in the school gating criteria for a safe return to in-person learning, even under a hybrid model.”

Current Johnson County data indicates an 11.4% test positivity rate, above the 10% threshold for the Red zone of the county’s gating criteria. While in the Red zone, schools must adopt a remote learning model. The school board approved the county’s gating criteria for reopening at an Aug. 3 meeting. 

The board also voted to modify the criteria so that elementary schools would follow middle and high schools. Under the county’s original plan, elementary students would return in person while in the Red zone; under the district’s plan, they will return online. 

We made this recommendation to more effectively implement all the changes that are required to mitigate the spread of the virus,” superintendent Frank Harwood said in a video message. “[We also considered] all the unknowns about the impacts COVID-19 has in young children and how the virus spreads in schools.”

The decision will be reassessed a few weeks after the beginning of the school year, based on changes to the county’s COVID-19 indicators. 

“We recognize that remote learning creates hardship for families. We also know remote learning is not the best environment for students to grow academically, socially or emotionally,” Harwood said. “However, the rate of spread in our community makes remote learning the right choice given the circumstances.”

The district has not yet released any information regarding extracurricular activities or childcare options.

De Soto Teachers Association president Emily Valdez supports the district’s decision, but still hopes the district will address childcare for district staff.

“Student and staff safety is of the utmost importance to both our district and the De Soto Teachers’ Association.  The district’s decision to begin in a remote learning model validates this shared priority,” Valdez said. “DTA remains committed to finding a reasonable solution to the various needs for childcare for staff families.  If teachers and staff are required to teach remotely on-site, care for their children becomes an urgent need district-wide.  We look forward to our continued collaboration with the district about this essential issue.”

The most up-to-date information about COVID-19 indicators can be found on the Johnson County Health Department’s website.

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