The coronavirus-driven decision puts a halt to in-person classes for the largest school district in Kansas.

All elementary students in Wichita Public Schools will learn remotely, starting this week.

The district’s school board voted Monday night to make the switch because of the county’s worsening coronavirus crisis.

“This has been a heartbreaking thing for me because I believe so strongly that kids need to be in school,” said board president Sheril Logan. “But I also am a realist.”

Middle and high schools have been learning remotely since the start of the school year. Some elementary students who opted into online classes have been doing so since September. But now all students, including families that signed up for in-person classes, will learn online.

School board members meet to determine the next steps in full remote learning. They will convene again on Jan. 11 for further learning updates. 

The board voted unanimously on the change, with board member Mike Rodee absent.

As of last Thursday, 16% of the district’s employees have been actively quarantining. Currently 334 staff members have active coronavirus cases.

The district said it does not have enough substitutes to fill absent teaching positions and has been pulling central office staff with teaching licenses to fill those gaps.

“COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on staffing in our schools and central offices,” said Superintendent Alicia Thompson.

Students still went to school on Tuesday for classes and to pick up learning kits and computers. Wichita Public Schools recently received its final, long-delayed shipment of computers.

Students will begin making the shift to remote today. Friday will be the first day of full remote learning. The district is still working out other details and says it will contact parents with more information.

The board is expected to revisit the issue at its Jan. 11 meeting.

Original story by Kansas News Service.

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