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Kansas City Public Schools Delays Plans For In-Person Classes After Rise In Coronavirus Cases

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3 file photo
Third grade teacher Felicia Bowles explains a lesson in her classroom at Pitcher Elementary in the Kansas City Public Schools.

Superintendent Mark Bedell wrote in an email to families Monday that the delay in announcing plans for the fall is the result of coronavirus cases “rising rapidly in our region.”

UPDATED, 10:30 a.m. – Kansas City Public Schools is adjusting its reopening plans after health officials advised against in-person classes during a Zoom call with superintendents on Friday.

Superintendent Mark Bedell wrote in an email to families Monday that the change in plans is the result of coronavirus cases “rising rapidly in our region.” Kansas City, Missouri, reported more than 400 coronavirus cases last week, the most new cases so far.

“The guidance we got was that there are major concerns with the cases spiking here inside the boundaries of our school district,” Bedell told KCUR shortly after the email to families went out. “That’s what made us say, ‘Whoa, we need to slow down. We cannot put this plan out the way we have it right now.’”

Bedell said he hoped students would be able return to school next month because so few participated in virtual learning last semester. KCPS teachers were only able to make contact with about half their students after schools closed in March.

“The best solution is to have in-person instruction and to give parents who want to opt out opportunities (to learn) on a virtual platform,” Bedell said, “but if the numbers dictate that scenario can’t work, then we have to pivot to the next best scenario.”

Bedell said that unless the number of new cases drops for 14 consecutive days before August 24, the scheduled first day of school, it’s unlikely KCPS will be able to open for in-person instruction next month. He said that when the school board meets on Wednesday to discuss reopening plans, they’ll also talk about how to support families in the meantime with telehealth and child care.

Bedell added that the priority has to be keeping students and teachers healthy. He’s especially worried about the disproportionate impact coronavirus is having on communities of color — KCPS is 90% students of color — and the unknown long-term effects on well-being.

“A deceased staff member can’t educate,” Bedell said. “A deceased student can’t learn. And I have to think of that safety above all else first, above anything.”

A spokeswoman for the Kansas City Health Department said KCPS was the first to act on the recommendations in last week’s call. Many other districts had already released their plans, which may need to be adjusted if cases continue to climb. There are 14 traditional public school districts within city limits, as well as 20 charter schools.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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