Grain Valley shifts to online classes

By Mike Genet

Starting Wednesday, the Grain Valley School District will temporarily shift all students to virtual learning as it combats student and particularly staff absences due to COVID-19.

Superintendent Marc Snow notified district families of the move Monday evening, after the Board of Education approved the move in a special meeting. 

For now, the district plans to have elementary and early childhood students return to in-person learning after the Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30, while middle school and high school students will remain virtual through the rest of 2020 and return to their hybrid model Jan. 4.

Snow had cautioned district families in a message last week that the move might be necessary due to worsening substitute-fill rates among the teaching staff. He said district administrators decided over the weekend to make the move and arranged for Monday’s board meeting.

“We saw the signs last week when our sub-fill rate started to plummet,” Snow said Tuesday morning, adding that he hopes the temporary measure will allow the district to ride out the worsening trend.  

“We’re seeing a lot more students and staff get it, and with the contact tracing, we just see (the absences) escalating,” he said. “This will allow us to shift resources to the elementaries to try to keep them open. We’re trying to keep as many kids in school as possible.” 

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, the sub-fill rate dipped from 90 and 89 percent the last week of October into November to 72 percent last week, and Snow said that rate was just 58 percent on Monday.

“This is not where we wanted to be, and we did not want to go full virtual, but having so many staff out and with not enough subs, gives us little choice,” Snow wrote in his message Monday to families. “We have held on as long as we could.”

Prior to this move, about 10 percent of high school students and 13 percent of middle school students had been doing all virtual learning this semester, the district said. A similar range of elementary students had been projected to do virtual learning, as well, when the school started.

According to the district’s dashboard, schools had 12 new cases among students and seven new cases among staff last week, after 15 students and 11 staff for the school year prior to that week. In addition 87 more students had to quarantine last week due to exposure to positive cases, the highest week yet in the district, while 17 staff had to quarantine after a total of 23 in all prior weeks.

Grain Valley’s decision comes a couple days after the Blue Springs School District decided to shift in-person middle school and high school students to virtual learning for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, citing increasing case numbers in the district and area and low sub-fill rates. Blue Springs has not had a hybrid model for older students.

The Lee’s Summit Board of Education was scheduled to have a special meeting Tuesday evening to discuss some possible shift to virtual learning, also due to rising cases around that district. Lee’s Summit Schools started using a hybrid model for grades 4-12 last month.

The Independence School District says it will not have classes Monday and Tuesday next week before Thanksgiving, allowing for extra cleaning in all school buildings. The district said that because it started the school year sooner than other area districts, it will be able to make up the days later in the year. 

Independence has been using a hybrid model for older students who did not choose virtual learning for the semester. Under that model, students alternate between days in school and days learning at home.