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Wichita schools warn of potential closures amid COVID spike

January 13, 2022 GMT

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita school district is warning parents that temporary school closures may be necessary because so many teachers are out sick amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, while some Kansas City-area cities are introducing new mask mandates.

The Wichita district — the sate’s largest with 47,000 students — hopes to give parents two to three days’ notice before closing schools, Superintendent Alicia Thompson told parents in an email. But she said she couldn’t promise decisions won’t be made more quickly, The Wichita Eagle reported.

“Based on what we see happening in our district and our community, that notification could be provided one day to take effect the following day,” Thompson said.

The Bonner Springs and El Dorado districts have canceled classes, and the Rock Creek district in Pottawatomie County said an elementary and middle school were closed Thursday and Friday because of staffing issues, The Manhattan Mercury reported. The DeSoto, Eudora and Manhattan-Ogden districts were set to be closed on Friday because of staff and student absences, The Kansas City Star reported.

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Virtual learning isn’t an option because of limits that lawmakers put in place last year.

Top Republicans behind the law said Thursday that they’re inclined to keep the limits because of questions about the quality of remote learning and the hardships it creates for working parents.

But Republican Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a former Topeka-area school superintendent, suggested lawmakers reconsider the issue because, “Sometimes the things that we do have unintended consequences.”

Hoping to provide relief to understaffed districts, the state board of education voted Wednesday to ease application requirements for substitute teachers.

The staffing crunch comes as newly elected Wichita board members have indicated that they want to do away with the district’s mask mandate.

School board President Stan Reeser suspended Monday evening’s meeting without calling it to order because three members refused to put on masks.

In the Kansas City area, the Johnson County cities of Roeland Park, Mission and Prairie Village on Wednesday passed rules requiring masks in public places starting Tuesday. Violators will be subject to $25 fines.