Topeka Public Schools brings middle, high schools back to full-time, in-person learning

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 9:15 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - All Topeka Public Schools middle and school students will be able to attend in-person classes, five days a week starting April 1st.

USD 501 board members affirmed the action at their meeting Thursday night, making the return coincide with the start of the district’s 4th quarter.

Topeka High School Principal Rebecca Morrisey shared with the board that 85 percent of her staff said they were completely in favor of, or okay with, bringing students back five days a week. She said most of the 15 percent who said ‘no’ cited concerns about consistency, while only two expressed safety concerns. Morrisey also noted 145 of THS’ 209 staff members received the COVID-19 vaccine through the district, and at least 25 others received it elsewhere.

It is the first time all school year middle and high schoolers will be full time. They had been following a hybrid schedule, splitting in-person and remote time.

Board members asked Morrisey about a letter from the Topeka High PTO, expressing concerns for freshmen students who have not experienced the high school routine. Morrisey said she feels bringing the freshmen in for the 4th quarter will help provide some time for mentoring and learning the routine, so that they’re not starting from scratch in the fall as sophomores, along with the new freshmen class.

Families will still have the option to continue students on remote learning. Masks and other safety protocol also would continue to be utilized.

Board members and building principals did discuss new studies suggesting three-feet social distance may be enough to mitigate COVID-19 spread as opposed to six feet. The CDC has updated its guidance, allowing students to be spaced three feet apart, as long as they’re wearing a mask.

For now, the TPS principals said they feel able to accommodate three-foot social distancing, with moving and rearranging some classrooms around, although some principals noted they have some larger classes where it would be a challenge. Morrisey said, with the weather getting nicer, they also may be able to utilize outdoor spaces.

“We would love to have our students back, we just want to do it safely,” Landon Middle School Principal Stacy Schreiner said.

District officials did point out some issues that might need to be addressed in the next two weeks. Larry Robbins, Deputy Superintendent of Operations, noted they may not be able to accommodate transportation for some middle school students, due to bus routes and required distancing. Board members noted Topeka Metro bus passes might be an option. Some board members also brought up adjusting meal service.

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