The USD 383 school district has announced it intends to keep school in hybrid after Thanksgiving break for as long as possible, after switching to remote learning for today and yesterday.
One point of confusion in Manhattan High seems to be whether or not the Board of Education made a decision about switching learning models at the meeting on Wednesday, or if they just put it off. The answer is somewhat vague. Because the Board had already announced they planned to stay in hybrid through the first semester, the only decision they could make was to go remote. So, their decision — which wasn’t voted on because they weren’t changing anything — was to continue with what they originally planned to do: stay in hybrid. However, this decision is subject to change at any point in the remainder of the calendar year.
“The board … had a discussion not to alter their decision in any way,” building principal Michael Dorst said. “In addition to that, they had an open discussion of the reasons why we would in the future. [For] right now, our plan is to remain [in hybrid] and do that as long as we can.”
The reasoning behind staying in hybrid is that USD 383 continues to be one of the safest places in Manhattan. MHS hasn’t seen any case “clusters” within classes, activities or athletic teams. Therefore, while cases, quarantines and positivity rates within the community and MHS continue to climb, there is no evidence COVID-19 is spreading within schools. Students and staff are being exposed outside of school events, meaning continuing to have students onsite doesn’t appear to be a health risk right now.
“Our buildings are one of the safest places in our community,” Dorst said. “[And] our schools continue to be safer than out in the community because we have reduced the risk of transmitting COVID.”
Even though the district has succeeded in limiting the spread of COVID-19 within its doors, they cannot control what happens without them. That means students, teachers and staff will continue to be quarantined and test positive because of events in the community. While the district has proven to be very effective at limiting the spread when those exposed come through its doors, staff quarantines make it much harder to run a school. Teachers need substitutes, which there is a limited supply of, and transportation and custodial staff were already low before the pandemic.
“Our amount of students, essential staff, teachers in quarantine, may reach a point where we can’t function as a school,” Dorst said. “Essentially it is transportation. And we have to be able to transport our kids. And it is being able to either have our teachers or substitutes. If we don’t have enough substitutes, and we can’t transport our kids, then it’s very difficult to have school.”
With Thanksgiving coming up, many are concerned about students and staff traveling causing a spike in cases and quarantines. The school has not asked students who travel or congregate in large groups to quarantine before coming back to onsite, and does not intend to. Students will be expected to quarantine according to the Kansas State Department of Health travel list and if they are contract traced as they have been before the break.
“I’m not going to tell a student that they can’t go somewhere,” Dorst said. “What I will say is if any of our Manhattan High community is in an unfortunate circumstance where they have to quarantine, we’re going to want that individual to quarantine. What I do want to tell everybody, including myself is to stay well, be healthy and do the things that will protect them.”
The school is continuing with plans to come back five days next semester, but it is still contingent on the COVID-19 metrics come January. MHS counselors are working hard to create schedules that will allow for maximum social distancing in both hybrid and five-day, on-site learning.
“We want a schedule that would allow us to be in all three of those phases, if needed: five days a week, hybrid or distance,” Dorst said. “Our schedule for the first semester that we created in a very short time frame did not allow us to have classes at that optimal 20, as much as 25 level. We have classes that are over that, but we’ve been able to balance that because of the hybrid model… enrollment in many of our courses would make it very difficult to come back to a five-day week this semester. And what we’re focusing on is a more efficient schedule with lower class sizes.”