Few schools in the Kansas City metro are open for all-day, in-person learning, but Louisburg USD 416 is bucking the trend. The 4A district, located on the southeastern edge of the metro in Miami County, opened schools to students on Aug. 18.
Superintendent Brian Biermann said they put a lot of time, energy, and dollars into keeping their learning community safe, and he’s pleased with the results.
“This is the start of the fifth week,” he said. “I believe if you talk to students, staff, and parents, most of them, that’s what I’m hearing, our community is happy to be in session. Kids are adjusting.”
USD 416 gave public school parents a choice about how their children would be educated during the pandemic. Parents could opt for in-person, remote learning, or virtual. About 8.4 percent of the student body is utilizing some form of remote learning.
Biermann is careful to note the difference between remote and “virtual” learning. Louisburg’s remote elementary learners have a grade-level appropriate teacher assigned to them.
“The teacher will remote into your home and teach the kids. They’re doing reading; they’re doing math, but they are having daily contact with the teacher,” Biermann said.
The Louisburg district does have a virtual program that’s been in place for years. It allows students to complete all coursework outside of high school. Virtual students aren’t eligible to compete in athletic and other extracurricular activities. This year, the district is also offering a blended option for high school students.
“Maybe a kid wants to take some classes that can’t be replicated in a virtual world, like band,” Biermann says. “They come in and do whatever classes they choose, and they can go home and take some classes as well.”
Parents were given a week after school started to make changes to their learning plan, and they’ll have the option of making changes again at the end of the semester. Biermann says 37 kindergarten through 6th-grade students are in homeschool this year, and 21 kids have transferred to a different virtual school outside of the Louisburg district. Almost 92 percent of the district’s students are doing in-person learning.
In-person learning in Louisburg doesn’t look quite the same as it did at the start of the 2019 year. Students and staff are wearing masks. Foggers and misters are used to assist in quick cleaning. In middle school and high school dining rooms, plexiglass divides students at lunch tables. Thermal imaging cameras at school entrances take the temperature of 50 people entering per second. When thermal imaging cameras detect a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees, the individual is sent to a nurses’ office for additional screening. Biermann said he worries as much about quarantines as he does actual COVID cases.
When school first started, guidelines from the county and state-required stringent quarantine rules. If a student or staff member had been within 6-feet of a laboratory-confirmed positive student in a classroom setting, they had to quarantine for 14 days or until cleared by the state or county health department. After Sept. 2, those rules loosened slightly. Quarantine isn’t required if everyone was wearing a mask at the time of classroom exposure.
The bigger concern is positive cases involving student activities where masks aren’t worn at all times. Hence, the high school soccer team is in quarantine after one positive test. The team practices and plays games without wearing masks.
The district is also working hard to maintain a balance between privacy and safety. Close contacts of a positive case are notified, but the whole school district isn’t necessarily alerted if there’s a positive test in the school community. For example, if a seventh-grade staff member were to test positive, the district might send out an email to only families of seventh graders or middle school families.
In total, 312 people in Miami County have tested positive for COVID, and fewer than 100 cases are active with 3 hospitalized as of the first week of September. Louisburg has been the site of one reported cluster of 21 positive cases reported at the Faith Chapel Assembly of God.
Biermann said he’s proud of how staff and students are navigating the ever-changing landscape.
“My staff has just stepped up to the plate,” he said. “No one went to school for training on how to educate through a pandemic, but it’s working in Louisburg…I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish knowing that tomorrow will bring a new challenge.”