WICHITA — The Wichita Board of Education canceled its plan to let middle and high school students back into the classroom on Thursday as coronavirus cases surge in Sedgwick County.
The vote was 5-2 with board members Ben Blankley and Mike Rodee voting against the motion.
"It’s a disservice to continue in a full remote model for secondary learners even considering our community transmission," Blankley said at Monday night's meeting.
Board member Stan Reeser said he wanted to reopen schools, but that the coronavirus numbers forced him to vote otherwise.
"What gets me tonight is the fact that numbers will get worse," Reeser said. "Those numbers will affect our building at some point."
Elementary students in the district have been learning in-person since schools reopened late after Labor Day — though some parents opted to have their elementary students learn online instead.
But middle and high school students have been learning remotely this school year, despite whatever learning style their parents elected.
On Oct. 20, the school board voted to let those students return to in-person classes Nov. 9 under a hybrid model. But 10 days later, at an emergency meeting, the board delayed the start until Nov. 12 — this Thursday — because of the worsening coronavirus situation in the county.
The board decided it would reevaluate the coronavirus data that Monday.
By the time the board held that meeting, coronavirus began to rise even more sharply. Over the weekend, Sedgwick County’s positive test rate rose to nearly 22 percent.
The board approved a gating criteria in August that now suggests schools should be closed because of the state of the coronavirus in the county.
But Blankley argued that new information about the virus made it possible for the board to look beyond the model — specifically to the low number of cases among students and how much students are harmed by being kept out of school.
Elementary schools will remain open and the district will look at the coronavirus data again in two weeks.
Also on Monday the Maize School Board voted to begin switching all schools over to full-time remote later this week due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and difficulties fulling staffing the school. High school students will go remote on Friday; pre-K through eighth grade students will begin remote learning on Monday, Nov. 16.
"The current environment created by COVID-19 is affecting the daily operations of Maize USD 266 to the point that the district will pivot in the coming days to full-time remote learning," Superintendent Chad Higgins said in an email to the district Monday night.
The board last week voted to maintain its learning structure.
"Unfortunately, the situation locally has changed dramatically in recent days," Higgins wrote.
Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha or email him at bisaha (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
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