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It would appear that Newton USD 373’s spring break occurred at about the perfect time — as school districts across the state began announcing closures for this week in the face of COVID-19 and advice from the Kansas State Department of Education.


Newton schools announced Sunday night the shuttering of the Latchkey Program, minutes after state education commissioner Randy Watson issued guidance to schools across the state.


“With direction from KASB and Commissioner Watson, we will be shutting down Latchkey services the week of March 16-20,” read a statement issued by Samantha Anderson, director of communications for USD 373. “On Sunday, Commissioner Watson strongly recommended the closure of schools during this time. We do not take this decision lightly, but we believe it will help better ensure our students’ and staff’s safety. This is a rapidly moving situation so please look for further updates in the future.”


One local church has stepped forward during this time, providing lunch to school children who may need it during spring break. According to Clint McBroom, pastor of the First Church of God, the church is using spring break as a “test run” for if schools close for a prolonged period.


“We are doing it to serve kids who may not have a lunch and prepare for what could come,” McBroom said. “We have had great support from the community for funding this. Community dollars are funding this.”


The church prepared for between 150 and 200 lunches to be served. On Monday, the first day of the program, about 70 were signed up for the program.


Lunches will be ready for pickup at noon each day. The church is located at 620 N. Fairview. More information is available by calling 316-283-1944.


The district had already suspended athletics and activities indefinitely, with a reevaluation of that decision coming by March 23 — the first day of classes scheduled following Spring Break. RaileRobotics Team 935 canceled the remainder of the team’s season after FIRST Robotics canceled all competition worldwide.


There are, at this time, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school district, or in Harvey County. KDHE has confirmed about a dozen cases statewide, with the closest in Butler County.


In a series of tweets Watson wrote he strongly advised schools that were on spring break last week not to return to class, and schools in session this week to cancel those classes.


“Closing all schools during this same period of time provides Kansas officials the time needed to finalize a comprehensive plan for how to address COVID-19,” Watson wrote. “It is critical that we all follow a coordinated response to this situation.”


Gov. Laura Kelly mirrored the recommendation and statement on Sunday night.


“We take this pandemic and our preparedness seriously,” Kelly said. “One of these areas of particular concern is our K-12 schools, where our children, parents and staff come together in one place. Our schools form the cornerstones of our communities. It is because of this that we need to ensure that schools are prepared to face the COVID-19 challenge.


“When classes resume, parents can be assured their children will continue to receive the same high-quality, world-class education Kansas is known for,” Kelly said.


The Kansas State Board of Education has formed a team of experts, many of whom are former Teachers of the Year, to build a comprehensive plan to address the challenges that schools are facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.