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NEWTON — In mid-March, normal operations for all levels of education within the state came to an abrupt stop as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Kansas communities.


The governor ordered public school buildings to close, leaving teachers at all levels of education scrambling to put together online instructional programs, videos and student group meetings for a virtual finish to the 2019-20 school year.


In Harvey County, school districts counted on the state for help, said Halstead USD 440 superintendent Ron Barry.


"During the development of COVID-19 and the final weeks of the school year, USD 440 has operated under the guidance and direction of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) by aligning our students educational experience with those that were recommended by the KSDE," Barry said in a statement.


He credited the district’s teachers for their work.


"Great educators are reflective practitioners, and as a result they will continually adapt their instructional plans to meet the needs of all learners. I believe that was the case with our teachers of USD 440 in the Continuous Learning Plan," Barry said. "USD 440 emphasized communication, grace and flexibility while attempting to meet the needs of students and parents during these unprecedented times."


Instructional changes at the college level happened in much the same way.


Tricia Clark, director of institutional communications and marketing at Bethel College in North Newton, said the small private college’s faculty "did a tremendous job of putting together distance learning programs in a two-week time frame.


"The climate of Bethel College remains incredibly positive, and we plan to ensure all students receive an excellent education despite the challenges set forth by the COVID-19 pandemic," Clark said.


On Sunday, May 17, Bethel College held a virtual commencement that was broadcast via social media to celebrate the 2020 graduating class.


Bethel has already begun looking at possible options for the 2020-21 academic year, according to Clark.


"We are working on plans to conduct in-person classes beginning in the fall, but we have also assembled a reopening task force at the beginning of May," she said. "The 10 members of the task force will represent all aspects of campus life, including academic affairs, admissions and financial aid, advancement, athletics, maintenance and facilities, marketing, and communication, as well as student life. The charge of this task force is to prepare Bethel College to resume full operations though no formal instruction has been released currently."


Clark said the task force will meet regularly for the foreseeable future to make decisions on changes and implementation of those changes as the college moves forward.


Barry said USD 440 is continually evaluating the COVID-19 situation and its impact on educational opportunities. He said the district will continue to use the guidance of KSDE, KDHE and the county health department for decisions that involve the use of school facilities and safety of stakeholders.


"The administrative team has begun discussing a variety of scenarios and possibilities of what educating the students of USD 440 will look like during the next school year," he said. "We hope that we will have the opportunity to see our students in our buildings in the fall and will continue to communicate with families about adjustments as needed."