Back to school

Chad Frey
Greeting kids on the first day of school is a tradition for school resource officer Jon Adkins, though this year at Northridge Elementary it looked a little different. Not only did he and students wear masks, gone were high-fives and handshakes -- elbow bumps were used instead.

For students in Newton USD 373, Thursday was the first day of the 2020-21 school year. It was the first day school buildings were open to students since April, when school buildings were closed by order of Gov. Laura Kelly in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On that day students attended in one of three modes — in school buildings, online or a combination of the two. School opened under a “Code Yellow” designation in the school district’s COVID-19 “Return to Learn” plan — designated by the board of education on Aug. 25.

First- through sixth-grade students attended school all day and will do so daily through Sept. 11. Students receive a temperature check when entering the building, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing while at school.

Kindergarten classes start Sept. 8.

Students in grades seven through 12 attended the first days of school in a hybrid model — about half of those students were in school Thursday and attended school online on Friday. The other half attended school online Thursday and in school buildings on Friday.

There is no school Sept. 7 in observance of Labor Day. The board of education will meet at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 to determine the mode of learning for the week of Sept. 14-18.

If the district moves to a “green” designation, all students enrolled in the flexible plan will attend class in school buildings all day, every day. If the district moves to an “orange” designation, pre-K through sixth grade students will move to hybrid — attending class in buildings two days a week.

About 23% of Newton USD 373 students enrolled in online only classes for the fall semester. Those students met with teachers and classmates through Google meet software. They were required to attend several meetings throughout the day and complete six hours of coursework.

Those who needed devices were issued Chromebooks. Some families were also issued an internet hotspot to help with internet connectivity.

Northridge teacher Carmen Dietz spent the hour before the first day of school directing traffic, and students, as students and staff attempted to keep social distancing between students on the way into the building at Northridge Elementary.