A parking lot sits nearly empty at Derby High School. The district's gating committee voted Wednesday to move all schools online after Thanksgiving Break until at least New Year's. DHS, both middle schools, and Cooper Elementary are already operating by remote. 

All schools in the Derby school district will move online after Thanksgiving Break until at least New Year’s.

The district’s gating committee voted to move all schools to remote learning from Nov. 30 to Jan. 1 at its meeting on Wednesday, with more than 80% of the committee voting in favor. 

Some committee members were particularly concerned with COVID-19 trends among teachers and other staff.

“I do have some concerns regarding our staff and the positive cases,” said Becky Moeder, assistant superintendent of human resources. 

“When we look at the gating for community criteria, I feel we generally will look at a big picture,” she said. “But when I look at our staff, I feel that we are a little bit more in the red there because we definitely are increasing.” 

Moeder said 34 staff members have tested positive overall since Nov. 9, with 14 new cases last week and 14 so far this week. At least 17 of those cases were among staff at elementary schools, she said. 

Along with positive cases, Moeder said the number of staffers under quarantine has created staff and substitute shortages for the district. 

As of Wednesday, 55 district staffers are quarantined.

Yvonne Rothe, principal at Wineteer Elementary School, said many of the staffers at her school are in older age groups and otherwise fall into high-risk categories. 

“The [elementary schools] are not OK; we’re getting by but we’re putting our staff at risk,” she said. “Each day they go in there, they’re kind of looking at each other like, ‘Who’s the next one to go?’”

Nicki Seeley, director of special services, said numbers are somewhat more stable among students. 

Seeley said 11 Derby students have tested positive for the coronavirus so far this week, from Monday to Wednesday morning. USD 260’s weekly COVID-19 dashboard says 21 students tested positive last week and 21 students tested positive the week before. 

“If you look at that trend, it looks like we’re kind of stable — as in, the last couple of weeks, we’ve been in the 20s,” Seeley said. However, she said, the district’s two-week figure for students has increased from 30 to 41. 

According to Seeley and the COVID-19 dashboard, 65 students have tested positive since Nov. 2. 

Gating committee members also weighed input from two local doctors at their Wednesday meeting, including Marty Turner with Family MedCenter. 

Turner spoke in favor of Minns’ new order and the recommendation that schools move online.

“Whenever you have a specialist tell you to do something, you have to have good evidence to go against him,” he said. “And I don’t have good evidence to go against what Dr. Minns is saying, so that’s why I support this decision.”

Turner also said he anticipates a spike in coronavirus cases after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, as there were after other holidays this year like the Fourth of July and Halloween. 

BOE weighs in 

The Derby Board of Education held a special meeting Friday to review and discuss the gating committee’s decision.

While the decision faced opposition from a few board members, including Board President Justin Kippenberger, the board ultimately took no action to reverse it.

“We did have [staffing] concerns, especially at Cooper, which we addressed, but we didn’t blanket it across the board because we have schools that just don’t have the same concerns,” Kippenberger said. “It seems to be a little unfair to not offer the kids in-person learning where we can, which would be the majority of our schools.” 

“Even if we do go remote, the staffing concerns won’t change a whole heck of a lot because we’re not going to ask remote teachers that have tested positive to teach.” 

Kippenberger moved to keep secondary schools online and elementary schools in-person, but the vote failed 3-4.

Board member Tina Prunier, who spoke in favor of the gating committee’s decision, said the move online represents a temporary “pause." 

“I would just as soon take this three-week pause than to come back and say in March, like we did last year, ‘The kids are done for the rest of the year,’” she said. “None of us want to cancel school. That is not at all what we want to do.”

Derby High School, both Derby middle schools and Cooper Elementary are already operating by remote. 

The decision to move all schools online follows a new order from Sedgwick County Health Officer Gerold Minns on Tuesday. Minns recommended schools move as much of their learning online as possible. 

As of Wednesday, the county’s rolling 14-day average positive test rate is 22%, with 21,970 total confirmed cases and 149 deaths. 

The gating committee will meet again Wednesday, Dec. 30.