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Small Groups, Staggered Schedules Or 100% Online: What School In Kansas City Could Look Like This Fall

Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy, a one-year-old charter school, relied on ice cream socials and family dinners to recruit students last summer. Now they're leaning toward 100% virtual instruction to keep students and staff safe during the pandemic.
Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy, a 1-year-old charter school, relied on ice cream socials and family dinners to recruit students last summer. Now they're leaning toward 100% virtual instruction to keep students and staff safe during the pandemic.

The three Crossroads Charter Schools are planning to rotate students in and out of classrooms to comply with social distancing guidelines. Or, families can opt for fully remote learning next year.

A Kansas City charter’s plan to let parents choose fully remote learning or every-other-week in-person instruction is a preview of what school could look like in the fall.

Parents at the three Crossroads Charter Schools have until next week to decide which option will work best for their family. The first option is 100 percent virtual, designed for families who want to continue self-isolating because of the pandemic.

The second option combines remote learning with small-group instruction at the three Crossroads schools. Students will be on campus for one week, then at home the next while another group rotates into classrooms.

“Adhering to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, which call for six feet of separation between students, creates some capacity limitations. That’s what’s really necessitated working toward a hybrid model,” said Dean Johnson, the schools’ executive director. “It’s difficult to accommodate everyone that wants those onsite classes.”

Crossroads surveyed families before finalizing plans for the 2020-21 school year. Johnson said about 20 percent of parents said they wanted to keep their kids at home because of COVID-19, though the survey wasn’t binding. Parents must decide this week what their family will do, so that Crossroads can build the schedule for in-person learning. There are logistical challenges, like making sure families with students in multiple grades or at different campuses are on the same rotation.

Because charters are autonomous school systems with fewer students – Crossroads’ enrollment is about 1,100 – they can often implement changes faster than traditional public school districts, which educate more students.

Still, many charter schools are waiting to see what, if any, guidance they get at the state level. Doug Thaman, the executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, wrote in an email that many schools in the Kansas City area would wait until early July to announce reopening plans, to coordinate with Kansas school districts.

Back in March, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly took a more proactive approach to the pandemic than Missouri Gov. Mike Parson when she closed schools for the remainder of the school year. Parson initially left it up to Missouri superintendents and school boards whether schools would close. All 555 districts and charters ultimately did, and in April, Parson ordered them to stay closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.

“That’s a really challenging aspect of this decision,” said Tom Krebs, the executive director of Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy, a new charter school that just opened last fall. “I think the most polite way to say it is there has been highly inconsistent guidance from health authorities federally, locally and across state lines about how best to manage from a safety perspective.”

KCGPA is a very small charter that next year will only serve fifth and sixth grade girls, so next year students could spread out in the building that was purchased for when the school is at full capacity, which won’t be for another six years.

“But the most safe and healthy version of a schedule from our perspective is everyone’s 100 percent remote,” Krebs said.

Krebs said it helps that KCGPA students are at least 10 years old because they can work more independently than younger children, many of whom are struggling to stay engaged with virtual instruction for any length of time.

“We have found that our families have been able to find someone who can keep an eye on them,” Krebs said. “Then we are able to do a ton of high engagement remote instruction so they have plenty to keep them busy during the day, including appropriate energy breaks and fun things to get them up and moving.”

Johnson, from Crossroads Charter Schools, said that right now, educators are scrambling to redesign the school day.

“I mean, this is a complete paradigm shift in how we operate K-12 education,” Johnson said. “Typically, if we’re going to be doing something like this, this would be two to three years of preparation, but instead, we’re all having to do this in two or three months.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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