OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) -- Johnson County schools may soon have to send kids back home to resume remote learning.

The latest coronavirus numbers for Johnson County show a concerning uptick. That prompted a Shawnee Mission School District mom to call KCTV5 News to ask if the district would in fact hold to their plan if the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s gating criteria places schools in the so-called red zone.

We dug into health department gating criteria, which shows it’s hard to tell based on numbers alone what they will decide about when and if in-person learning needs to change.

Olathe’s elementary kids went back to school in-person on September 28th wearing masks and distancing.

Shawnee Mission schools started a week later with a phased approach. The youngest, grades K-2, began hybrid learning on October 5th. Grades 3-6 came on in hybrid mode a week after that, on October 12th. Grades K-2 began full-time on the 19th.

“We want to be consistent. We want to try to avoid the yo-yo back and forth, up and down, so that’s why we started slow,” explained SMSD Chief Communications Officer, David Smith.

On October 26th, all elementary school kids in the district came full-time in-person, and upper grades came back for the first time in a long time to begin hybrid learning.

That very same day, a key metric in determining whether schools should move to entirely remote learning rose to its highest number since October 1st.

That number is the incidence rate: the number of new positives during a 14-day period per 100,000 people in the county.

On Monday, it was up to 248. Two weeks prior it was 217.

Johnson County Coronavirus Incidence Rate (10/26/20)

Johnson County Coronavirus Incidence Rate (10/26/20)

The county’s gating criteria for schools was revised on October 1. The red zone begins at 251.

Johnson County School Gating Criteria (Revised 10/1/20)

Johnson County School Gating Criteria (Revised 10/1/20)

The county’s gating criteria indicates incidence rate should be the primary metric. But that’s not the only factor the health department considers.

One other factor is percent positivity rate: the number of new positives divided by the number of people tested. That sits in the yellow at 7.4%. It is also ticking up.

Johnson County Percent Positivity Rate (10/23/20)

Johnson County Percent Positivity Rate (10/23/20)

The county health department looks at those two factors as well as what they call “modifying variables,” four of them, broken down on pages five and six of this document, to decide red, orange, yellow or green.

In light of all the pressure districts faced this summer from parents pushing for sports and in-school learning, in some cases even suing school districts, we pressed on whether Shawnee Mission schools would abide by what the health department recommends should schools be placed in the red status.

“We are close collaborators with them and we plan to follow their advice,” Smith said.

Asked for a guarantee or promise, he responded, “I don’t make promises because there are lots of things that could potentially intervene.”

He would not give hypothetical examples, but said they’re prepared to go remote if needed.

“Because we’ve come from the remote environment through hybrid, we know how to do it. So if we have to, we can go back to that,” Smith assured.

A key thing to remember is that where schools stand is not based on cases in school but cases countywide, in the larger community.

The best way to keep the status of schools from changing is for everyone to do their part outside of a school setting to keep spread down.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has a Frequently Asked Questions page that includes the topic of schools on its website.

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