Wichita’s middle and high school students should brace for at least nine more weeks of virtual learning.

On Aug. 20, the Wichita Public Schools’ Board of Education voted 5-2 to start the school year with remote-only classes for the district’s middle and high schools.

“It’s the right thing to do for the kids and the city,” said board president Sheril Logan. 

School activities will also be remote only, meaning there will be no fall sports competition. The school board will revaluate the restrictions nine weeks after school starts.

District parents had already begun signing up their kids for either all virtual learning or in-person classes. Lower grades will still get their learning style of choice, but high school and middle school students who want to learn inside a school building will have to wait.

Superintendent Alicia Thompson said across the district about 60% of parents want their kids learning in-person. 

The school board pointed to Sedgwick County’s high positive test rate as a reason not to allow sixth through 12th grade students back into physical classrooms. The county is reporting a 10.2% positive rate for all tests in the last two weeks.

Students in lower grades will be allowed to learn in-person because of research that suggests younger students are less likely to spread the coronavirus. The Kansas COVID Workgroup For Kids, a group of Kansas peditricans advocating for children’s health during the pandemic, recommends keeping fifth grade and lower in-person because those students struggle more with online learning. 

“Remote learning is going to be much more difficult and less effective for these young students,” said Paul Teran, a peditrician at Wesley Children’s Hospital. “It’s critical that they get  a good education early so that we’re not having issues with their academic further and further for the next decade.”

The board accepted a modified version of the Kansas State Department of Education’s gating criteria, which  guides the district’s decisions for how to roepen or shut schools in response to the virurs. Wichita is currently in the “orange zone,” which recommends middle and high school students stay home.

“The part that breaks my heart is athletics that we won’t have, but we can’t have everything,” said board member Mike Rodee. 

An advisory committee that will include health experts was also approved to provide input to the board. 

School officially starts in the district on Sept. 8 after the board previously voted to delay reopening three weeks. Gov. Laura Kelly originally wanted all school’s to wait until after Labor Day to reopen, but that plan was rejected by the state school board, making the choice to delay school a local decision.

Between Aug. 13 and 19, three employees tested positive for the coronavirus with 70 staff members quarantining, according to a district weekly report. 

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