Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, hear from state and local school and public health officials. It's been a week of uncertainty for parents across Johnson County as we wait for word on when and how the school year will start. We'll talk about the governor's executive order to mandate safety precautions in schools and how parents can prep their little ones for wearing masks, physical distancing and good hand hygiene.
Announcer [00:00:21] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed [00:00:33] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Shortly after community spread COVID-19 was detected in Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly shut down schools across the state. Distance learning for the rest of the school year was a challenge for teachers, administrators, students and parents. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, containing the spread this fall. once again, a factor as we look at learning. On July 21st, the governor signed an executive order to mandate safety precautions in Kansas schools, including masks for kids five and older, along with staff and visitors, hourly use of hand sanitizer and physical distancing. The governor also announced a proposed second executive order that would delay the start of the school year to September 9th. But that measure had to receive Kansas State Board of Education support to move forward. The board met on July 22nd, and that measure failed to receive majority support, which left Kansas school districts to individually decide when to start. So as Johnson County school districts make those decisions, we want to give you the information you need to make an informed decision about whether it's the right time to send your kids back to the classroom or maintain distance learning in your home. To get us started, we have Johnson County local health officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster with details about children and COVID-19.
Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:01:56] Children have a tendency, more tendency to get infected by being exposed to adults and older children who are infected. Also, older children are much more likely to be moving around between different groups of children in classrooms. Younger children are able to stay within the same classroom. So that sort of limits their exposure. We know that there are going to be a lot of sports activities happening at schools. Remember that the governor's mandate allows people who are actively participating in an organized sport not to have to wear a mask as long as they can maintain social distance. Most of the time that they're working out or in that sport activity and that they only have momentary contact with other people while they're participating. That doesn't give an excuse to all the people who are sitting around, coaches or other people who are in the situation, spectators. All those people need to be wearing masks. They're not participating. They're not exempted. Now, speaking about children who are under the age of 12, who are in situations where they're going to be around other kids. So if that child has got any kind of chronic disease or immune deficiency or anything like that, then that's another situation. We strongly recommend in that situation, that you contact your primary care physician or whoever is looking after your child and get specific recommendations about what your child should do. If it's possible, if your child is in a situation where there are at increased risk of getting infections due to immune problems. There may be alternative situations that can be arranged with your child and with the school specifically. We would strongly encourage you to work with your doctor and your school nurse and your school administrators to figure out a plan for your child.
Theresa Freed [00:03:43] And how does the virus present in children and what should parents do if their kids get sick?
Dr. Joseph LeMaster [00:03:47] So children may often look quite different when they have COVID. They may just look like they have a cold. They may not look like they have anything. Remember, too, though, that kids do get COVID and when they get COVID, sometimes they can have very bad complications. So please remember that younger people, kids, older, older youth and young adults, even though they get COVID and many people are asymptomatic, sometimes people will get very severe side effects or very severe complications, may end up in the hospital, and we are still seeing all over the country children dying and also adults, who are younger, dying. So it is important to remember that this can happen. Symptoms may be very mild. They may include a runny nose, sneezing, a mild cough, just a little bit run down. It's really not may not be looked like very much. We are currently testing children who are 12 and over. Children between 12 and 15 must have a parent present to be able to give consent. If your child is under 12 and you believe that child needs to be tested, many of the health systems in Kansas City are providing testing for their own patients. If you're established in a in a health care system, they may be providing that for you and your family.
Theresa Freed [00:05:02] And with more on how to help your children prepare for a school year, that will look very different, a Johnson County school nurse I recently spoke with by video conference. And we now have with this JoAnn Blevins. She's a nurse at Westwood View Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District. Thanks for being here.
JoAnn Blevins [00:05:18] Thank you for having me.
Theresa Freed [00:05:20] All right. So. Just to start off with, can you talk a little bit about how parents can help prepare their kids for wearing masks?
JoAnn Blevins [00:05:27] So I think the most important thing is for parents to model it. Kids watch us all the time. And so we want to model for them what we want them to do. Every time you go out, you put on a mask. We have a supply of masks that we keep in our car at home. And every time we go somewhere, before we get out, put on the mask, it's kind of like learning to wear a seat belt or wear your bike helmet and stop at Stop signs. These are all things that we do to keep each other safe and to keep ourselves safe. So for kids, there's lots of fun masks out there with fun fabric. Find a few that are special, that are their masks that they can have just for them. Keep a supply in the car, like I said, or with you in your bag wherever you go. Practice putting it on. Practice taking it off. Washing your hands when you take your mask off. If we're going to use the same mask through the day, you can put it in a bag to save it and then pull it back out later. And again, model it because our kids are watching us. And if we do those things, they're going to want to do the same thing.
Theresa Freed [00:06:26] And I know the masks obviously come in a variety of sizes. And the typical like surgical masks are really made for adults. I think to where there's a lot of gaps on the sides and things like that. So what would you recommend in terms of what they should be wearing?
JoAnn Blevins [00:06:43] I know I have seen masks specifically for kids that they sell on a lot of different places. I've also seen little straps that they can make or purchased little plastic straps with buttons maybe that you put across the back of the neck and you can hook the ear loops onto those. The ones that tie. I know those can be really annoying. I've seen some kids with lanyards that have like a breakaway clip on Lanyard and they put their mask on to that and then they've always got it around them. Then they can pull it back up, put it on, take it off. So there are lots of different ways that you can attach them. Ties for me are frustrating. So I kind of like the ear loop ones, but then you've always got to have a place to put that.
Theresa Freed [00:07:23] All right. And so another important safety precaution, obviously, is going to be you just keeping distance from other kids and other people in the classroom and at school. And then also hand hygiene. So can you talk a little bit about how parents can help prepare kids for those things?
JoAnn Blevins [00:07:40] So we're always we're emphasizing with kids the importance of washing their hands. I can't tell you how many times I'll have a kid come in and use my restroom and he comes out and I'll say, did you wash your hands? He says, no. So he goes back in, turns the water on. And I hear it running for about two seconds. And he comes out and says, done and I'm like yeah, no. So handwashing, 15 to 20 seconds. Get all the parts of the hands, between the fingers the wrists again, practice at home. And we need to do the same thing with hand sanitizer. We rub our hands for 15 to 20 seconds with the hand sanitizer and get it on all parts of our hands and let it dry just like we do. We don't run out with wet hands after we've washed them with soap and water. So you want to get your hands dry before you go on to the next thing and then just make handwashing a regular part of our routine in the same way that we say wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you eat and after you play, we're gonna add it to when you put your mask on and take your mask off. Let's wash your hands. 20 seconds. Learn the songs. The ABC song. There's lots of different ones that you can do. And there's a lot of videos that are available right now with emphasis on washing hands for kids.
Theresa Freed [00:08:51] Okay. And then the physical distancing, I know that's going to be more of a challenge probably with the younger age groups. Is there something that the schools are doing now to to kind of prepare for that?
JoAnn Blevins [00:09:01] So we are following the guidelines of our county local health departments on what that's going to look like may mean placing desks apart. You know, the spots on the floor like you see in the stores. I think for kids, they're not aware of distance, you know, so we're teaching again from an early age what personal distance looks like, maybe put a hula hoop around somebody and say, you know, this is your personal space. Well now our personal space is going to be a little bit bigger. So when you take your kids with you to the store and they have the spots on the floor practice standing on your spot and then moving to the next spot so that they start to get an idea of what that's going to look like and learn what their space looks like and recognize that we're gonna have a little more space between me and the next person at school. It's gonna be different this year. But but we can do this and we can make it. You can make a game out of it at home. You know, space out, measure out the distance in your living room. OK, where are you going? To set to stay away for me and I'm going to stay away from you. Or how far do we need to sit apart at the dinner table or maybe have a little picnic out in the yard with social distancing? So practice that spacing.
Theresa Freed [00:10:08] All right. Those are great tips. You're going to mix in the flu season and you have the risk of COVID. So what tips you have for parents as they're checking their kids to make sure that they're healthy. And not sending their kids to school sick?
JoAnn Blevins [00:10:23] Well, again, we are going to follow the guidelines as the local health department and county department come out with information. We know that symptoms of COVID in kids can be mild and can look a lot like colds and flu. So we may be monitoring a little bit more closely. Some of the symptoms can be as simple as a runny nose or a headache. Some kids have mild fever. A lot of kids don't. Vomiting and diarrhea. I mean, I think of all the things that I send kids home with and any one of those are potential symptoms of COVID. So, to start with, our recommendations are right now that if your child has a fever or vomiting or diarrhea. Any symptoms that are not normal for them, we want you to keep them at home. And so that's for sure going to be the same this year. We may be giving parents some kind of a self-assessment tool that they can follow at home and ask themselves these questions. But I would suggest that parents think ahead. If my child's sick, if they're not their normal selves, what's my backup plan? You know, who can I? Can I stay home from work? Who can I have watch them because we're going to have to probably watch them a little more closely and keep them home a little more often this year.
Theresa Freed [00:11:39] And as you mentioned, there's probably going to be a little bit more caution used this year when keeping kids home. That quarantine period. That'll be a little bit different than than the flu, right?
JoAnn Blevins [00:11:51] Yes, it is. So this is a new virus and we're learning all the time. More information about it. I taught when I answer the phone at the health department, what I tell people is if you think if this person has the virus and then the person that's directly with them, like the parents or whoever is in their household, they're now on a yellow light. So the person that's sick is the red light. The next person that's the yellow light, the person that lives down the street that may have passed them. And walking is still on a green light because they're another step removed. So that's kind of how we'll think of it as far as school goes. Again, we're working with the health department, unlet quarantine might look like or when we would need to quarantine. We'll be working closely with their guidance and with with their recommendations.
Theresa Freed [00:12:39] OK, and you mentioned you have been volunteering with the health department COVID hotline. So can you talk a little bit about some of the questions you're answering?
JoAnn Blevins [00:12:49] So most people are calling with questions about symptoms. They maybe don't feel well. They want to find a place where they can get a test. Sometimes they're concerned about things they might see out in public. And when do I need to wear my mask? And when do I wash my hands? And so we're just trying to calm people's fears, answer their questions, give them the guidance to who they can call or where they can go to get the information that they need to navigate this. It's it's a new time, but we can get through this.
Theresa Freed [00:13:18] All right. And just last question. Back to talking about the school year flu shots. I heard that that's going to be extra important this year because if you get sick, you may end up having to be tested both for the flu and for COVID. Can you. Can you talk about what what the importance is of getting those flu shots and if if it might help with preventing COVID? I don't know if that's the case or at least the complications associated.
JoAnn Blevins [00:13:45] Sure. You know, flu shots are always a priority as far as I'm concerned. There is nothing worse than having the flu except maybe having COVID now we know that. But the flu shots are going to be more important than ever. Part of it is because the symptoms may be similar. And so if you haven't had a flu shot, then we don't know if you've got flu or COVID or like you said, we may need to test for both. Secondly, if you have the flu and you get COVID on top of it, that would be just really, really bad. So flu shot is super important. I'm hoping that maybe we'll have a little less of a flu season this year if everybody wears masks and social distances and washes their hands. That might help cut that and even colds. But flu shots are extremely important. They usually come out around the 1st of September and we're going to encourage everyone to get a flu shot.
Theresa Freed [00:14:34] All right. Great advice there. Thank you so much for being with us today.
JoAnn Blevins [00:14:37] Thank you for having me.
Theresa Freed [00:14:40] And lastly, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson was recently the guest presenter on a call hosted by the Olathe Chamber. He's going to talk about the work that's been done to prepare for the school year and what a group came up with for guidance.
Randy Watson [00:14:53] How do we get students back to school in a safe and healthy way for everyone involved? I think everyone's trying to do that. I'm going to go over with you in just a few minutes. This document, we call it Navigating Change, a Kansas guide to learning and school safety operations. The state board voted unanimously to accept this document that was produced by almost 1000 Kansans. So I'm in meetings often and someone will say, you know in, pick a state, North Carolina, they're doing this or, you know, in Texas, and I look at them and say, you know, I'm all for learning about what may may happen. But I know this, that when you've lived as long as I have in our state, you get to. We get to know each other and we just we just roll up our sleeves and we get doing the work. And so these are these are a lot of educators, but parents, school board members and the best health professionals in our state. So doctors, pediatricians, family practitioners, nurses, county health people all helping putting this document together that I'll walk through with you in just a second. To give you an idea of how it developed, we developed this in three stages, starting in May. The first you're going to see a lot what we call operations and instruction. We we started by in May grabbing CDC guidelines and Harvard guidelines and Stanford guidelines. And, oh, Maine already had their guidelines on how to come back to school. So we just collected every sample guideline for safety and school operations that we could on instructional side. We took the standards, the academic and social emotional standards, and we reformatted those. And I'll be happy to go over those with you in a minute. That took us 30 days all throughout the month of May. Stage two, which just ended recently. That's where we took those operations and those instructional teams. And we we went deeper to really develop the document, make sure it was coherent, make sure it it collaborated together. And then finally, the states that we're in right now, which is rapidly ending, is 500 educators plus our redesigned schools giving advice with this document. What what professional development will people in schools need in order to pull this off going forward? These are just some of the team voices on the operation side. Those are things like do you mask, not mask? How about temperatures. How do you gonna put kids on a bus and keep them safe? All of those things. And then on the instruction side, what your kids learn, are they going to learn remotely or they're going to learn in brick and mortar? What are they expected to learn? How will they learn? Do you see the people that put those together? But the first thing that we did back in the spring was a process called continuous learning. Educators had 72 hours from the first from the time that we knew we were going to to shut school down to we did shut school down across the state to determine how will we have learning going forward? That was our best effort. But let's just let's just be really honest. While it was really great and across the nation was called the gold standard. It left a lot to be desired because we just didn't have long enough to plan for it. So this phase is really calling for flexibility. We know that districts are going to need maximum flexibility because the virus will impact different communities differently and at different times. So, for example, we know today that there are many staff members and many students that will not be able to attend a brick and mortar school because they have an underlying condition. They have underlying health condition or they live with some of that has underlying health condition. So how does that work for them? What if in Olathe school there's an outbreak because four families went to a wedding over a weekend and there were someone positive and then those those kids had to quarantine? What happens to their education? So a flexible model that school districts can implement and then develop what we call competencies related to the standards. They don't replace the standards. They help clarify those to a greater extent. And remember, this is not an all or nothing. Meaning you have to do one way or the other. It's about being flexible and having multiple learning environments as we go forward. The first is onsite. Does everyone remember when we did that? We came to school, we went to a brick and mortar school and every teacher wants to be back in that. So when can we do that? Well, it's when the community restrictions for COVID are low or they're trending down rapidly. Schools can operate then at 100 percent. The hybrid model, some students are at school. Some students are at home. Some faculty members are at home. Some faculty members in the brick and mortar. This hybrid model really happens when you're starting to see that moderate COVID-19 situations are taking place in your school district or county and county health officials are starting to get concerned about large numbers of crowds. So in this hybrid model, schools can operate at reduced capacity, kind of like we've done with restaurants 50 percent. Group size would be limited to 15 and spectator events not allowed. Now, again, these models aren't hard and fast. I mean, you could be between an onsite and a hybrid model. And then, of course, the most restrictive would be remote for students. So are in a remote environment where social distancing is strictly enforced. And the only students that would come to school would be small groups of 10 or less maybe special needs kids or kids that need a lot of help could come in. But for the most part, the most of the buildings would not be open. So our goals. Is to have two major buckets. Keep this rigorous. We want to have academic rigor high with students and engage on daily basis and we want to take care of their social emotional needs. And equity and access. Meaning whatever environment within, every student has access to the environment that makes sense for him or her. And that family. That's a really important going forward. Remember this. No environment is 100 percent safe. The minute you walk out of your home, it's not 100 percent. While there be great precautions taken for when we're in a brick and mortar to make it as safe as possible, you cannot guarantee 100 percent safety. And schools should maximize the flexibilities for students, for families to maximize their learning options. Finally, the call to action is go volunteer to give your voice to your local community and local school board group that are planning for the start of school, we've got several weeks to continue the planning for the start of school. It will look different in every community. Be a part of making those decisions. Give your voice. Let your voice be heard. Go to your school district office and say, I'm worried. I want to be a part of the solution. Whether you're a business leader or a parent or or a medical person, we want to provide training and support to our community and our teachers to get ready to open this fall and then communicate and over communicate your plans as to how you're going to operate when there's an outbreak in your community. What school would you like to start? What would cause it to close? What options there are for students, etc.. And remember create a flexible environment that can be done in as many configurations.
Moderator [00:23:24] We've got a few questions. Does this document pertain to private schools or just telephone?
Randy Watson [00:23:30] It pertains to every school that is accredited in Kansas. So all of our so we have a lot of private accredited schools. And they were, by the way, they were part of the thousand people. And I give a lot of kudos to Janet Eaton. She's the superintendent of the Wichita Catholic diocese. She was on our oversight team and we had other teachers and administrators from private schools. So the Catholic schools, for the most part, the Kansas City Diocese of Wichita. Salina diocese, the Lutheran schools. And then we have a handful of other private schools. It is not. Now, our plan does not apply to non-accredited schools, Susie. They they certainly can use it, but they don't have to.
Moderator [00:24:15] So my next question. You talked about an online option and an in-person option. Why can't parents go back and forth if their child gets they? Can they go to online and then can they go back and to the same curriculum required in both formats?
Randy Watson [00:24:30] The answer is yes. They can go back and forth. And in fact, if you if you've watched since March, we think we will go back and forth either by choice. I want to not come back in or I don't because I don't feel it's safe. Or the county health says, you know what, that wing of the building is going to need to close for 14 days because we had an outbreak and those kids are going to have to move to remote learning so it can be both. The curriculum. So this is this is one of these education terms. For us, that's a very defined term. These standards in the assessment and the competencies are the same. The curriculum could be a little bit different or it could be the same. So so if I'm learning, like, from this textbook about the War of 1812, Suzy, I might learn online about the War of 1812. So the modality might change, but the content is essentially the same.
Moderator [00:25:26] And my next question kind of has to add IE plans and special education services. How does how do we do that if its children choose the online version of learning? And if they go to school, obviously a lot of kids leave the classroom to get those resources, will that still be an option?
Randy Watson [00:25:44] The answer is the part that I talked about. Every student has to have equity and access. So let me talk to the people have special needs kids because I have one. I have is an adult now. But I had I have a student that was on the autism spectrum. And so I empathize with all of you. And some of you have students with moderate disabilities, maybe a learning disability that can be a comedy in the classroom. And some of you have student students or grandkids that are severely handicapped and require more attention if you are at home. The IEP will be met. If you are in the building, the IEP will be. We're going to have to, again, think about how we do it and make every sure everyone's safe. So there may be tremendous safety guidelines going on. But but we want to make sure we meet every student's IEP.
Moderator [00:26:39] Our last question is with state assessments, how is that going to be with the different changes that we've seen throughout the school year?
Randy Watson [00:26:47] I think that's too early to tell. State assessments are not the end all be all. But we need to measure academic progress. We can do that in many ways. When you look at the documents, we have rubrics to measure that the highest of levels won't be making the decision on state assessments probably around the January timeframe. December, as we see. Are we gonna be in school all year, is there a vaccine coming forward? What that looks like. But if we're interrupted a lot, you know, obviously we're going to be in a phase like we were last year. If that interruptions minimal this year, then we're probably going to go forward.
Theresa Freed [00:27:23] For more information about COVID-19, visit our website at jocogov.org/coronavirus. Guidance and decisions on schools reopening are being made and changing all the time. So be sure to reach out to your local school board or children's school to get the very latest. We wish everyone a safe and productive school year. Thanks for listening.
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