Newton USD 373 students return to school

Chad Frey
The Kansan

The only outward sign of a pandemic as Newton USD 373  students arrived for the first day of class kicking off the 2021-22 school year Aug. 12 was some students and teachers wearing a mask as they entered the building. 

Students make their way into Northridge Elementary for the first day of school Aug. 12.

The board of education approved a "masks encouraged but not required" policy for buildings just two days before. However, facial coverings are required on school busses to comply with federal transportation rules to preserve federal funding. 

Pandemic COVID-19  closed school buildings in 2020 and sent more than a quarter of the Newton USD 373 school district to online only school for the 2020-21 school year. Modes of operation — from in school all day every day to online only to a hybrid of the two, changed multiple times during the 2020-21 school year as the board of education made adjustments based on local COVID-19 case numbers. 

Online only school is no longer an option after limits were placed on districts by the Kansas Legislature, leading to a first day of school that resembled the first day of school in 2019. 

According to the Kansas Association of School Boards,  restrictions on remote learning were part of Kansas HB 2134. The bill contained  remote learning restrictions were pushed by legislators who had voiced displeasure with school districts that heavily relied on remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new law, school districts are prohibited from providing more than 40 hours of remote learning to any student.

There are exemptions available based on  illness, medical condition, injury or "extraordinary circumstance." Any and all exemptions granted by a local school board require notification of the State Board of Education. The State Board may authorize up to 240 hours of remote instruction due to a disaster restricting operation of public schools for an inordinate amount of time.

According to the KASB, under the law any student exceeding 40 hours without an exemption is funded at $5,000 per student, less than half the average funding per pupil.

A family observes the annual photo ritual of back to school at Northridge Elementary Aug. 12.