Update from Superintendent

Update from the Superintendent - 10/15
Posted on 10/15/2020

UA Community,

We have been studying our situation as it relates to COVID-19, virtual learning, and trying to establish what the coming weeks and months will look like.  I want to take a moment to explain our thought process, our challenges, some data, and what lies ahead.

First, thank you for filling out the survey regarding preferred tracks (virtual vs in-person) for our second quarter.   The results are below.   As you can see, some parents prefer to stay virtual, and some prefer to attend in-person to various degrees and various reasons.   I read all of the 200+ comments and I completely understand the position that each individual expressed.   Some have real pressures of trying to balance work and helping kids with school.   Some love virtual education and want to err on the side of safety.   Some have very unique circumstances and this pandemic has just plain not been good.  I hear every one of you loud and clear.

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Second, I have been very frustrated with the lack of clear, publicly stated guidance from the KCMO Health Department.   The KC metro area consists of six counties (Jackson, Clay, Platte, Cass, Johnson and Wyandotte).  Each of those counties has a Health Department that has established and published school gating criteria.  That criterion is based on factors such as total new COVID-19 cases, the percent increase/decrease in cases, and the percent of tests given that returned positive.   Schools all around us use that gating criteria to help inform decisions about whether they should be virtual, hybrid, or fully in-person for various age levels.   Only Kansas City, Missouri has decided not to publicly publish, adopt or advocate for official school gating criteria.  I have even shown Dr. Rex Archer (director) the results of this poll, begging him to tell us what is "safe".   This has made our job very difficult.   It’s not only a challenge for UA, but also for KCPS and other charter schools within KCMO.  Having said that, we have been exploring other models and data sources, such as the COVID-19 dashboard provided by Mid America Regional Council, and raw data sourced from the health department to try to come up with a gating criterion that is based in science, in line with local schools and surrounding health departments.   We believe we have landed on a solid school gating criterion that is specific for populations within KCPS, uses public data, and has been endorsed by local health experts.  These criteria were originally established by Crossroads Charter Schools, so I want to give credit where it is due.   

Our board will be briefed on this criterion later this month (Oct. 27th) and will hopefully adopt the criteria, establishing a way for us to move forward in a transparent, science-based manner.  Assuming the criteria is adopted; we will start a 14-day period of time on Oct 28th to do two things, simultaneously.  1) We will look at weekly community transmission/infection data on a weekly basis, and 2) We will have part of our team begin preliminary planning for what some in-person learning may look like.   At the conclusion of the 14-day period, we will look at the data compared to the school gating criteria and if it is deemed to be safe enough for some students to come back into the school, we will start the process of reopening.  

The process to reopen does take some time.  Currently, UA does not have any bus drivers, night custodians, cafeteria personnel, or sufficient substitute teacher coverage.  We will need some time to ramp things up.   Another huge challenge for us is scheduling.   About half of the students chose to be virtual for the entire first semester no matter what.  Those students will remain virtual even if the school were to partially or fully re-open.   How to balance students and teacher schedules to simultaneously teach those in virtual and in-person tracks is difficult and will take time to figure out.   Finally, we need to know we will be sufficiently staffed.   Like many schools, we do have some personnel with underlying health issues, or caring for elderly families and/or young children.   Figuring out exactly what it will all look like will take a couple of weeks to work through.

My best guess for an optimistic timeline going forward is:

Oct. 27 – UA Board adopts school gating criteria.   Administrators and classified staff begin hypothetical planning for reopening.

Nov 3 – UA receives first weekly batch of data from Health Department to compare against criteria.   Planning continues.

Nov 10 – UA receives second weekly batch of data from Health Department and can make its first official data comparison of 14 prior days vs. gating criteria.  Depending upon that data, UA could either decide to stay virtual longer or begin the serious process of reopening, which would take a week or two to complete.

Best case scenario for returning to campus would be mid to late November.

Please bear in mind that community transmissions could spike at any time.  In just the last week, the rate of infection has greatly increased locally.  We have heard about a “second wave” all summer long and many health officials said this fall/winter could prove to be very difficult and dangerous.

I know that many of you want and/or need your children to be in school.  I know that you may have some other options in terms of private schools, moving, other charters or KCPS should they actually reopen before UA.   I know that and I respect every family’s right to choose what is best for themselves.  You selected University Academy to educate your student prior to the Pandemic, and you have remained a partner during this trying time and transition to virtual learning.  It is my hope you will continue that partnership as we navigate these challenges, put the safety of students and staff as a top priority and continue to provide a quality education.

 

Tony Kline

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