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If Lee's Summit Schools Are Open, Online Teachers Will Be Expected To Work In Buildings

Lee’s Summit R-7 School District
Lee’s Summit Superintendent David Buck meets with Trailridge Elementary Principal Jennifer Kevern during summer school in July. Buck and other administrators say that teachers who taught this summer are more confident about opening schools next month than their colleagues who didn’t.

Educators who opt to teach online won't be able to telecommute when buildings are open. That has teachers in high-risk categories concerned for their safety.

Two-thirds of U.S. teachers would prefer to teach remotely this year, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll out this week.

But the majority of parents want their kids to attend in person if at all possible. In most metro Kansas City school districts, fewer than 20% of parents are choosing online classes for their kids.

That’s already creating logistical challenges for administrators who need to staff both school buildings and online academies this fall. Demand for virtual teaching positions is higher than enrollment, and it’s likely districts will need to accommodate teachers in high-risk categories for COVID-19 with these jobs.

Teaching virtually, however, doesn’t necessarily mean telecommuting. Many districts will expect teachers providing online instruction to do so on campus.

Lee’s Summit R-7 Online Academy educators will teach for 7.5 hours in buildings if the health department is allowing face-to-face or hybrid instruction. How districts are using the terms “online” and “virtual” varies, but in Lee’s Summit, online refers to the opt-in program for families who want their kids to learn remotely for the duration of the fall semester, while virtual refers to all students learning online because of community spread of the coronavirus.

Only if the district must switch to virtual learning for all students will Lee’s Summit teachers be allowed to “telecommute from home four days a week with daily teacher expectations.” They’ll need to be onsite on Wednesdays for “in-building collaboration days.”

Lee’s Summit R-7 School District
The vast majority of Lee’s Summit students and staff will be expected to wear masks next year. The one exception is bus drivers, who will wear masks while kids are getting on and off buses but can take them off while driving. The district will leave an empty row of seats between drivers and students.

Educators who want to continue teaching from their classrooms can do so even if the health department recommends the district cease in-person instruction. However, everyone will have to teach from home if another stay-at-home order is issued in Jackson County.

At a special meeting Thursday, board member Kim Fritchie said many teachers were concerned that they would have to continue coming in even if school buildings had to shut down.

Superintendent David Buck replied that teachers would only be expected to come in on Wednesdays “to help us plan and be flexible and tweak as we move.”

But that answer may not satisfy educators who want to teach online this fall to minimize their exposure to COVID-19. Several Lee’s Summit teachers have reached out to KCUR to point out that having to teach online at school is too risky for vulnerable individuals, but they all declined to be interviewed for fear of reprisal.

Kyle Farmer, the senior staff attorney for the Missouri State Teachers Association, wrote in an email that policies that require educators to be onsite while teaching virtually don’t make a lot of sense.

“While school districts certainly have the ability to force teachers to report to campus when teaching remote classes, the real question is should they?” Farmer said. “If the building is not safe enough for students, then it certainly isn’t safe enough for teachers and staff. We recommend districts trust their staff to be the professionals they are and allow remote working during times of virtual instruction.”

Lee's Summit R-7 School District

Of course, this could all be moot if pandemic conditions don’t improve in the metro. On Thursday, the Lee’s Summit Board of Education agreed to push the first day of school back until Sept. 8, but if school was starting tomorrow, the Jackson County Health Department has recommended virtual learning for all students, with a possible exception for pre-kindergarten through third grade.

That would mean teachers could telecommute most days.

Superintendent Buck said county health officials will make a recommendation about how Lee’s Summit students return to school by Aug. 25.

“If you look at the Lake of the Ozarks again this week, different people have different ideas about what we should or should not do,” Buck said. “I’m going to rely on science and research and guidance.”

That’s why Lee’s Summit has drawn a hard line on other pandemic precautions, such as masking. On Thursday, several school board members expressed in no uncertain terms that students and staff should be wearing masks at all times, and Buck agreed.

Buck said families that object to mask wearing will be told to enroll in the online program.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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