The Winfield board of education voted Monday night to send all district students back to the classroom on Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Students unaffected by the decision are those whose parents chose remote learning for them at the beginning of the school year.

By a vote of 6 to 1, the board decided that pre-kindergarten students would be in the classroom Monday through Thursday and would learn remotely on Friday.

Students in kindergarten through grade 12 will go to school Monday through Friday. The district’s staying at level 1 will depend on whether the City-Cowley County Health Department requires them to return to level 2 (hybrid) or level 3 (completely remote) because of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Superintendent Dr. Nathan Reed had proposed that the board adopt a plan that would have the pre-K through grade 5 kids back in school full-time while keeping the middle- and high-school students in a hybrid learning pattern.

Reed said that although he wanted all students back in school, the older kids who contract the coronavirus sometimes have more adverse effects from it than the younger kids.

Board member Brent Wolf said the fact that students aren’t learning well at home is evident when one looks at the high school’s “F” list. Wolf thinks it is the board’s responsibility to get the students back in the classroom as soon as possible.

Board member Ed Trimmer, who teaches in the Central USD 462 school district in Burden, said that district has been able to have students in class despite the virus.

New board chair Ed Loeb said as a parent of two high school children, he is well aware of the challenges facing parents who have to work at their own jobs and help teach their students who are learning at home.

Much discussion centered around teachers, some of whom have underlying conditions that may make them reluctant to return to the classroom. The district so far has done everything possible to accommodate those teachers, Reed said, but they are under contract to teach.

There is also a shortage of people who can substitute teach, and though the district has worked out a pay scale to make substitute teaching more desirable, there are currently too few substitute teachers available.

The board, earlier in the meeting, heard a report from director of operations Kent Tamsen and director of nursing services Lorri Greenlee about the high school’s becoming a COVID testing center and a vaccine distribution center. 

That should help the district deal more quickly with staff and students testing positive for the virus and getting the vaccine to them, Greenlee said. The board will be voting on that measure at the next meeting.

Board member Lyle Weinert was the lone dissenter in the vote. He said in comments Tuesday that he still has concerns about COVID-19, and he thought the district could afford to wait a while longer before going completely to level 1.

Classroom learning is scheduled to begin Jan. 19. Students had been scheduled to remain in remote learning until Jan. 22, then have several days off for teachers’ in-service days. They would not have been back learning until Jan. 28.

“The district will pick up four more days by returning to the classroom on the 19th,” Weinert said, but waiting until the 28th would give the district a better handle on how the COVID cases are trending, and whether it is really safer to bring all students back to the classrooms.

Weinert said he agrees with his fellow board members: Students do learn better in the classroom, and they need to be back there as soon as possible.

“I’m looking at the problem from the pandemic view,” he said. “We’re waiting for the ‘Christmas surge’ of coronavirus cases, and we should see that happening around the time the kids go back to school.”

What the impact of the return to the classroom will mean for attendance at school events will be clarified later in the week after a meeting with the health department director Tom Langer.

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