Lawrence students will be able to return to school full time


Maebelle Hamlin

Students attend classes from the Learning Commons on Jan. 21 as part of the hybrid learning schedule that began in November. Hybrid students have attended all seven classes one day a week, but that increases to two days a week next week and five days a week in March.

By Nadia Sanburn, Co-Online Editor in Chief

USD 497 students will return to school buildings five days a week for the first time in a year next month, according to plans shared at the school board meeting Monday night. 

Superintendent Anthony Lewis plans to bring kindergarten through fifth grade students back to buildings five days a week on March 15, and sixth through 12th back on March 29. Students who opted to stay remote for the rest of the semester will continue remotely. 

“With increased mask requirements, the risk is very low for school-age children,” Lewis said. “Our schools are a controlled environment where we can ensure that everyone is wearing masks.”

The change comes as students near one year of life under the pandemic and educators are able to be vaccinated. Students have been learning in a hybrid model since November although most high school students opted to stay remote. High schools are scheduled to increase hybrid days to two days a week per student next week.

During public comment, community member Elise Higgins asked the board to keep staff in mind. 

“I am relying on all of you to advocate for district workers and to extend as much care to the people who keep our schools running as you do for the students they serve,” they said. “Please don’t unnecessarily expose my loved ones to COVID when it’s in your power to keep them safe.”

Parents like Karin Denes-Collar said the decision will benefit students as long as COVID cases are kept under control. 

“My hope would be that it’s a positive decision for kids that will really benefit from daily in-person learning,” she said. “But my concern is, if COVID is more widespread, that there will be more kids interacting with more possible exposures, especially at the high school level, which could lead to more cases in the community.”

Arbor Mulligan, a sophomore at LHS, doesn’t think it’s a good idea to go back fully in-person. 

“I am going to stay remote because I do not think it is safe to go back all five days because I am worried that there is not enough space in some of the classrooms to properly distance everyone,” she said.

Lauren Seybold, a freshman, was surprised by the district’s decision. 

“My first reaction was a mix of shock and concern,” she said. “I have questions concerning the timing, the difficulty of making this transition, and if going back only months before the school year ends is the right decision.” 

Junior Helena Viloria has been attending hybrid and prefers it to the proposed in-person plan. 

“I liked hybrid because it was a way to attend school in-person safely and remain remote most of the time,” she said. “I think hybrid is more preferable than full time. If we’re all in-person, I don’t think it’s possible to to safely distance, and so the case numbers will most likely increase.”

Some members of the Lawrence Education Association, like vice president Jeff Plinsky, expressed support for the district’s plan only if implemented cautiously and after teachers are vaccinated. 

In LEA’s polling, a majority of our teachers made it clear that once they are fully vaccinated, they are willing to entertain a return to full face to face instruction, provided the district continues to adhere to all of the other state and local safety recommendations,” Plinsky said. “But no sooner, because it is simply not safe to do so.”

Physical education teacher Adam Green said he’s looking forward to some energy returning to the gym where he teaches.

“I like having a gym full of activity,” he said. “I like being able to facilitate a class full of students from a lot of different backgrounds and mixing you all together into my class, so when I heard that that might be a possibility, I think every teacher at their core, that’s what we all want.”

Denes-Collar opted to keep her child fully remote for the rest of the semester.

“We had already made the decision for my daughter to be remote for the rest of the semester, and the school board’s decision helps me feel more confident in that decision for my family,” she said. 

Tessa Collar, Maeslyn Hamlin, Marina Profeti and Cuyler Dunn contributed to this report.