Planning for 2020-21 school year underway

Chad Frey

There is a big question that USD 373 administration and the board of education is trying to tackle in the next few weeks: What will school look like when it is set to resume in August?

The answer is, at this point, unknown. Something driven home after a meeting of school administrators and county emergency preparedness workers.

“We have to be prepared for change,” said superintendent Deb Hamm during a meeting of the board of education this week. “Anything you set in stone now can change on a moment’s notice.”

That, however, does not mean the school district is not beginning to make plans. An email to parents last week let families know that planning for the 2020-21 school year is underway — and there will be multiple plans created so the district can adapt to new guidance as the state of Kansas works to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Have a plan A, B and C,” Hamm said. “As you work on this over the next month, that is something to consider. ... Have a conversation of what does safety look like.”

The Kansas Department of Education is expected to issue a framework July 10, about one month before school is set to start in the Newton district.

Hamm said part of what will need to be addressed is if families are comfortable sending their children back to school buildings.

“I have had a parent that has contacted me about not having their child attend school next year and wants to do that home, and what does that mean. They want the child to go into the next grade, and attend school, the year after,” Hamm said.

There will be challenges — everything from sanitation of school buildings to class sizes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

“We know there are things that we would be able to do in our district and still have school,“ Hammm said. ”It would be very difficult.“

For example, some classrooms are too small to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between student desks and have all the students in that class in the room.

“We did a classroom overlay,“ Hamm said. ”... You could only put 16 desks in that classroom. We have class sizes that exceed 20. That would mean different things. You could split the class.“

Meaning that students would attend school on different days, with groups alternating three-day and two-day attendance weeks.

“That is not going to be real convenient for parents and families,” Hamm said. “Not to mention if you have kids in four different schools. ... We would have to make sure siblings have the same schedule across ... different schools.”

Thus far the school district has worked to ensure there is enough disinfectant and hand sanitizer for every classroom; ensuring there is enough protective equipment for nursing staff and workers who have close contact with students; creating designated areas for students who are ill; and building plexiglass barriers for front desks at the school.

“Those are things that we can do to prepare in preparation for what do not know at this point,” Hamm said.

Also at the meeting, the board:

• Approved the elementary and middle school student handbooks.

• Discussed school dress codes.

• Accepted the donation or resources and supplies from Pamela Procheske and Norman and Barbara Roux on behalf of Walton Rural Life Center.

• Learned that the district has six licensed positions to fill for the 2020-21 school year.

• Learned that 115 Chromebooks have not yet been turned in by families who borrowed them during the COVID-19 school building shutdown. Eleven Chromebooks were damaged.

“With just over 3300 students, these numbers are impressive, especially given the fact that Prek-6 grade students had never taken a Chromebook home to use,” said Brenda Lampman, director of technology.

• Approved paying teachers for unused personal days in the 2019-20 year because of COVID-19.