A summer rite of passage for Kansas’ 14-year-olds could be put in jeopardy if stay-at-home orders are extended beyond May.
While Newton High School still expects to conduct its summer driver’s education courses as scheduled, that could change if school closures are extended.
The first session is scheduled for June 1-19, while the second session is scheduled for June 22 through Aug. 10.
"At this point, we haven’t made any changes," NHS teacher Lisa Antonowich said. "That’s all pending any kind of restrictions from the state or any stay-at-home orders. That could cause a delay in the start, or maybe reduced to one session. Schools start back up Aug. 6 for teachers and we don’t want to go too much beyond that. If we go to one session, preference will go to NHS students and those that are closest to driving — the upperclassmen. If all goes well, we will offer our first session June 1."
Antonowich is one of three instructors in Unified School District 373’s driver’s ed program, along with Elizabeth Gunn and retired teacher Ted Jantz, who helps out in the summer.
Driver’s ed in Kansas is required for 15-year-olds to gain a restricted driver’s license, although it is not required for farm permits. Fourteen-year-olds can only drive under the conditions of a learner’s permit or a farm permit, which are both highly restricted.
Kansas has a graduated licensing system for 14- to 16-year-olds. A nonrestricted license isn’t available until a driver reaches 17 years old.
Newton High School only offers driver’s ed in the summer.
"The whole world is unclear about how long we’re going to go and how long we’re going to be," Antonowich said. "We don’t know if we will be staying at home and socially distancing. It is a concern for the teachers. We’re in such closer quarters and less than six feet in an enclosed area. … We just want to make sure students are safe and teachers are safe. We don’t want to put any students at risk."
If stay-at-home orders are extended, Antonowich said there probably wouldn’t be any alternative methods to teaching the classes (all NHS classes for the spring semester are online or delivered by other means).
"The driving component is so important," she said. "And you would be closer than six feet. … We’re following (Kansas State Department of Education) guidelines about driving. If they continue with stay-at-home orders, we’ll probably have to cancel. … If the district feels teachers or students are at risk, we’d probably have to pull the plug until we have such things under control."
If the program is canceled this summer, students would either have to enroll in a commercial driver’s ed program or wait until next summer.