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Education

After Some Kansas City Area Schools Welcome Back Students, CDC Says That's Risky

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Student trainers at Center High School wore masks while handing out water at a recent football game. Fall sports have been allowed to continue, even though students in the Center School District are learning remotely.

The new guidance, which came out quietly on Wednesday, has stricter thresholds than the gating criteria in use in many school districts across the country.

Most communities in the Kansas City area are at high risk of coronavirus transmission in schools, according to new reopening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 90% of people in the U.S. live in counties in where reopening schools is likely to spread the coronavirus.

A community is at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools if there are 50 to 200 new cases per 100,000 persons in the last 14 days and an 8% positivity rate. A community is at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools if there are more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days and a 10% positivity rate.

Unlike local gating criteria, the CDC guidelines don’t recommend whether schools should be open or closed. But the CDC definitely considers some learning modalities to be riskier than others. Virtual learning is the safest. In-person learning with normal class sizes is higher risk than hybrid models with fewer students, and not requiring masks and six feet of separation is the riskiest of all.

Likewise, the CDC doesn’t recommend whether student-athletes should play, though it ranks competition between teams as higher risk, and riskier still if the teams playing each other are not from the same geographic region.

And a final caveat before getting into the local data: Kansas City’s borders are porous. People live in one community and work in another. That means even if one city or county is starting to get the pandemic under control, all it takes is one outbreak nearby to undo that progress.

Here’s how local gating criteria and school reopening plans stack up against CDC guidance.

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Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, reported 243 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per the Mid-American Regional Council’s COVID-19 dashboard. The 14-day positivity rate was 8.63%. According to CDC guidance, Kansas City is at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools, though the number of cases pushes it toward the highest risk transmission in schools.

The vast majority of students in urban districts – including Kansas City, Center, Hickman Mills and most charter schools – are learning online right now, based on the health department’s recommendation. Student-athletes are playing fall sports.

Jackson County, Missouri

Jackson County reported 253 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per MARC’s COVID-19 dashboard. The 14-day positivity rate was 14.44%. According to CDC guidance, Jackson County is at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

The Jackson County Health Department recommended in August that the school year start virtually based on gating criteria for the Kansas City region, which largely matches the CDC guidance that came out this week. However, many districts decided to bring students back anyway. Pre-kindergarten through third grade students in Lee’s Summit are back at school, and Blue Springs, Independence and Fort Osage brought back older students, too.

Eastern Jackson County schools are playing fall sports, though the health department has limited attendance at athletic events. The Blue Springs School District tried unsuccessfully to challenge the spectator guidance in court.

Johnson County, Kansas

Johnson County, Kansas, reported 243 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per MARC’s COVID-19 dashboard. County data puts the 14-day positivity rate at 12.4% as of Sept. 17. According to CDC guidance, Johnson County is at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

The Johnson County gating criteria allows elementary students to attend in-person when the 14-day positivity rate is between 10% and 15%, when the CDC says a community is already at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. Most Johnson County school districts allowed elementary students to start the school year in-person. Shawnee Mission did not bring back young students initially, but the school board said last week they could return in October.

The Johnson County gating criteria recommends against high-risk sports and activities, but they’ve been allowed to continue, often after parents pushed back.

Wyandotte County, Kansas

Wyandotte County reported 317 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per MARC’s COVID-19 dashboard. MARC does not track positivity rates for Wyandotte County. According to CDC guidance, Wyandotte County is at highest risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

Students in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools started the school year virtually. All athletic competitions have been suspended, though the school board agreed last week to let student-athletes resume conditioning.

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Clay County, Missouri

Clay County reported 168 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per MARC’s COVID-19 dashboard. MARC does not track positivity rates for Clay County. According to CDC guidance, Clay County is at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

North Kansas City, the largest school district on the Missouri side of the metro, has brought back elementary students five days a week and older students every-other-day. NKC developed its own gating criteria, which calls for very small group instruction or online learning when the 14-day positivity rate is 10% or more.

Sports have continued. It’s worth noting that NKC Superintendent Dan Clemens is also president of the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

Platte County, Missouri

Platte County reported 131 new cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks that ended Sept. 7, per MARC’s COVID-19 dashboard. MARC does not track positivity rates for Platte County. According to CDC guidance, Platte County is at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

Park Hill students are learning in person, as are students in Platte County, West Platte and North Platte, and student-athletes are playing sports.

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