USD 373 enrolling for next year — and no online option is available

Chad Frey
The Kansan

For Newton USD 373, enrollment for the 2021-22 school year opened on April 1, and next school year will look different that this one.

Enrollment for Newton schools is underway, and next year there will not be an online option for students or parents.

Pandemic COVID-19 led to the shuttering of buildings in March of 2020, and when those building reopened for the fall semester of 2020-21 a significant number of students did not return to buildings. 

At the start of the 2020-21 school year, 23 percent of students were enrolled in the remote only option as the district opened school with a "flexible plan" for student attendance. Under the flexible plan, the board of education determined if students would be in school all day, every day; in school two or three days a week alternating with online only instruction; or if buildings would be closed to students. 

For next year, the online only option for parents and students is off the table — taken away by state guidance. The Kanas State Department of Education is advising districts to eliminate online only options. 

"We knew that in-person learning is more effective than online.  ... We don't want public education to be considered an online option. This was put in place only based on the percieved needs of the pandemic," said Fred Van Ranken, superintendent of Newton USD 373. 

For familiies who remain concerned, there will be online schools available in the state of Kansas — just as there were prior to the pandemic and the shuttering of buildings last year.  

"There are virtual schools in place in Kansas, a lot of those those are charter schools through USDs, so those options will be available," Van Ranken said. 

Van Rankin said at this time Newton plans to open school buildings and operate as normally as possible. 

"The one thing we have learned through this pandemic is you can't look more than a few weeks ahead," Van Rankin said. "This can change so quickly."

The district fluctuated among learning modes regularly in the 2020-21 school year, and within the last month announced students would no longer need a temperature check when entering buildings for class. According to the district, only about two or three cases were discovered through temperature checks this school year. 

Van Rankin said he held on to those checks was a statement that the district would do everything it could to prevent COVID-19 spread and protect students but that those checks did not prove to be an effective mitigation strategy. 

"We will be evaluating this over the summer. I just don't see us needing a lot of the things that we have now. ... By that time we hope to be back to normal, whatever that was," Van Ranken said.

The district, however, is making some assumptions as it moves forward. One of those assumptions is vaccinations will continue through the summer and the risk of COVID-19 infection will be reduced as a result. 

Van Ranken said he expects school age children will begin vaccinations in the months ahead in addition to the current push for vaccination of those 18 and over. 

The tentative deadline for returning families to submit their 2021-22 registration is May 7. Payment of fees, which are unchanged, for 2021-22 fees cannot be submitted or paid before July 1. Free and reduced meal applications for 2021-22 will be available after July 1.