Independence switching middle, high schools to ’hybrid’ approach

Mike Genet

Independence Schools, one of the few metro area school districts that still planned to start school on Aug. 24 while offering in-person classes, has decided to start the school year with a hybrid learning plan for its older students.

The district announced Friday that all middle school and high school students will alternate days with in-person and virtual classes. In-person elementary classes will continue as scheduled starting Aug. 24, as more than 25 percent of students selected virtual learning, allowing for enough social distancing.

The move to hybrid learning for the older students comes as the Jackson County Health Department said Friday that it “strongly recommends” that schools not start back until Sept. 8, and to start with virtual or remote learning.

“In Eastern Jackson County, the week-over-week case counts, percent positive, and daily hospitalizations are all increasing,” the department said in a release. “We are not comfortable making the recommendation to send students back to school during a period of significant uncontrolled community transmission.”

In the hybrid plan, half of in-person students will take virtual classes two days one week and three days the second week, and the other half will be on the opposite schedule. The students have been by last name, with A-K in one group and L-Z in another.

With virtual learning and hybrid schedules, the district will average between 11 and 15 students in a classroom, ISD Superintendent Dale Herl said in a message to district staff and families.

Last week, ISD said it planned to start with both in-person and virtual classes on Aug. 24, as about 25 percent of students across the district had selected virtual learning, allowing for social distancing in classrooms. District officials said they were comfortable not pushing the start date at the time, as many other districts had said they would do, because they had handled health precautions well enough during summer school, with just 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 4,000 students and staff involved in workouts and summer school classes in June and July, and no spread cases within the schools.

Through Friday afternoon, the Health Department has reported 3,722 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jackson County outside of Kansas City, with 64 deaths. Those figures from Monday morning’s totals of 3,384 and 59, respectively. From more than 48,500 people tested, 7.67 percent have come back positive (up more than 1 percentage point in two weeks), and the rolling 14-day percentage has risen in recent weeks to more than 15.92 percent, up more than eight percentage points in three weeks.