Students across Johnson County, including those in Blue Valley, are heading back to school Wednesday, Jan. 5, for a new semester, just as COVID-19 cases are hitting all-time highs in the Kansas City metro.
Steve Stites, chief medical officer for The University of Kansas Health System, said in KU’s daily health briefing Tuesday that if the rules of infection control aren’t taken seriously, “this [COVID-19] curve will bend us.”
“Omicron and COVID are everywhere,” he said. “If you refuse to take precautions, it will find its way to you now more than anytime during the pandemic because Omicron is very transmissible.”
Johnson County school districts are a full semester into the 2021-22 school year, and many things have changed since it began in August.
While all local districts say they receive guidance and help from the county health department, each still has its own distinct process for handling COVID-19 cases among students and trying to control spread in their buildings.
Due to their different procedures and practices, the Post has put together this quick guide for what the local public school districts in our coverage area plan to do when it comes to COVID-19 at the start of the new year.
Below is answers for some common questions you may have about the policies and practices in place in Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and USD 232 schools.
Who will have to wear masks?
- Blue Valley: Masks have been optional in high schools, including for staff and visitors, since Nov. 19. If the total percentage of positive cases and exclusions at a building rises above 3%, masking requirements will return for a minimum of two weeks. Early childhood and K-8 students and staff are still required to wear masks, per a countywide public health order that remains in place for now, thought county officials are set to review it in the first week of January.
- Shawnee Mission: Mask wearing inside middle school and high school buildings will be optional for students and staff at the start of the second semester in Shawnee Mission schools. If a school building reaches 4% or more of students in exclusions and quarantines, the building will return to full mask requirements for at least two weeks. However, Pre-K and elementary students will still be required to mask up after the new year, according to the county health order.
- USD 232: Masks have been optional for high schoolers since late October. If the weekly percentage of recommended quarantines and isolations exceeds 4% of a building’s student enrollment, then face masks will once again be required in that building. Both elementary and middle schoolers are still under a mask mandate in the district.
When will students be excluded from in-person learning?
- For all three districts, anyone who is recommended for isolation by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment will be excluded from school anywhere between 6 to 10 days, depending upon symptoms. On Monday, the CDC recommended shorter quarantines for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic. It’s not clear yet if that will prompt Johnson County schools to change their exclusion policies.
- Under current district policies, student may be recommended for isolation due to testing positive for COVID-19 or for being within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for the virus for 15 minutes or more.
- However, students who have been exposed but not tested positive themselves can stay in school under the Test-to-Stay program, which will be in use in all three districts in January.
- Under “Test to Stay” protocols, students exposed to COVID-19 are tested daily for seven consecutive school days. If they test negative, they can remain in school but must wear a mask and eat lunch separately from their peers.
Will parents be able to come into schools?
- Blue Valley: The principal of each school will decides how many parents can volunteer on any given day and for what purpose in Blue Valley. Parents are required to wear a mask if the school they are visiting is under still under a mask mandate.
- Shawnee Mission: Parents who are volunteering will be limited to no more than three per classroom based on space to social distance and are also required to mask if there is a mask rule in place at the school in which they are visiting.
- USD 232: Officials say visitors, including parents, may be allowed in buildings during the school day in some circumstances. These circumstances are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Will kids be able to go on field trips?
- All three districts say they will be allowing curriculum-related field trips at the start of the new semester.
- The outings will be allowed on a case-by-case basis and may be subjected to cancellation due to lack of transportation or ongoing health concerns.
- Public health measures associated with travel restrictions will be followed while students are on field trips, meaning masks will be required while riding a bus or other form of public transportation.
What about sports and activities?
- Each district says it is following the guidelines of the Kansas State High School Activities Association when it comes to sports and activities.
- Under these guidelines, there is no current mask requirement while participating in extra curricular activities.
- Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 must obtain written clearance from a health care provider through an in-person health exam prior to returning to participation in school sports or other programs.
- In addition, students who have been exposed to a positive case and are being tested in the “Test to Stay” protocol must wear masks during their seven-day window when they are participating in athletics or other extracurricular activities.
How can I monitor my district’s COVID-19 cases?
- Blue Valley tracks student and staff positive cases and also gives breakdowns of cases, quarantines and those students in the “Test to Stay” protocol at its COVID-19 dashboard here. Numbers are typically updated each Wednesday during the school year.
- Shawnee Mission tracks student and staff “exclusions,” which include positive and presumed positive cases at its online COVID-19 dashboard here. Number are typically updated each Friday during the school year.
- USD 232 tracks students and staff positive cases and those “recommended for quarantine” at its COVID-19 dashboard here. Numbers are typically updated each Friday during the school year.