Washburn Rural High School seniors urge school board to keep students in hybrid learning for safety

Local News

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — As the state legislature and governor push for a return to in-person classes for K-12 education, a group of high school seniors in Topeka are asking their school board to consider what the students want.

The Washburn Rural School Board voted to return to in-person learning at their Feb. 15 meeting. The motion passed 5-1, with just one board member arguing in favor of what her own kids and students wanted. The return would occur the week of March 15.

Aiden Droge is a senior at Washburn Rural High School and started a petition almost a week ago after the school board decision. He and a number of students behind the movement say they feel unsafe going back.

According to a survey sent out by the school, they are not alone. While more Washburn Rural High School parents wanted to see a return according to one of their ThoughtExchange surveys, more students preferred hybrid. In total, between staff, parents, students for both the middle and high schools, more preferred hybrid.

In almost a week his petition has nearly 800 signatures, with more than half of them vetted as actual student names. Droge also collected his own data, attempting to survey his classmates. He polled 610 students and 61% of his respondents preferred the hybrid model of learning.

Droge says besides being unsafe, he says it’s been taxing for students to go back and forth between the different phases of learning.

“Surveys were sent out by the district and the students clearly want to stay hybrid and finish out this year but they disregarded what we had to say,” Droge said.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s smart to put 2,000 kids back into a building where we are not social distancing I see kids walking around without their masks on,” Alivia Cook, a senior said.

For school board President Tom Bruno, the discussions don’t stop at school. That’s because his daughter Olivia Bruno and her friends are among those behind the movement too.

The in-person return would come after the school district’s spring break.

“Guess what people are going to be doing? They’re going to be traveling and they’re probably not going to quarantine,” Olivia said.

“We’re going to know more in six weeks, or three weeks or six months, we’re going to know more if we don’t adjust as a school board, as a school community our policies our approaches to dealing with this then shame on us as a shame on us,” Tom said.

Tom told Olivia and her friends that part of the decision is to allow the school to start preemptively planning for an eventual return to full in-person learning.

This week the Seaman School District will return back to in person learning, first with the middle school, followed by the high school the week of March 15. After spring break, the Shawnee Heights School District will go back four days a week in-person. Topeka 501 Public Schools are still in hybrid learning as of this week.

The Shawnee County Health Department announced earlier this month that it would like to vaccinate the county’s teachers with their first dose by spring break.

According to Gov. Kelly more doses are on the way for Kansas teachers. Kelly announced a statewide “Back to School Vaccine Plan” which she said means the state will now earmark a portion of its vaccine supplies specifically for K-12 education staff on Feb. 17. The campaign is an effort to accelerate getting students back to in-person learning.

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