County Health Department directed USD 383 to suspend school through March 30

March 13, 2020

Reasons for school closure

Classes will not be held in USD 383 school district until March 30, extending spring break by two weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with the Center for Disease Control the school will close for 14 calendar days, the supposed incubation period of the disease. 

The school board and local health officials moved quickly with the intention of getting ahead of the disease and preventing an outbreak.  

“The guidelines say that a preemptive, coordinated school closure and dismissal may be implemented and that would be more effective than a reactive dismissal or closure,” said RCHD Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Andrew Adams in the school board meeting on March 13. 

Kansas has five cases and one confirmed death at the time of writing, but that number may rise. The hope is that the closure of schools will help with social isolation and “flatten the curve” to make the burden manageable for healthcare providers. 

The state has made a distinction between school closures on voluntary precautionary measures and an order by the local Health department. Mandatory shutdowns are likely to see more leniency from the state with wavers for time missed and other modifications. The RCHD ordered USD 383 schools to shutdown as a safety measure. 

According to Health Department Administrator Julie Gibbs, the district needed to shut down in part due to students returning from spring break. Travel could bring the virus back to Manhattan and the virus could spread quickly through the school system. 

“I’m concerned about it just from the standpoint, [of] number one, monitoring it,” Superintendent Marvin Wade said. “Because we’re asking people to self monitor to self isolate, and if they won’t comply with that, then we’re going to have a spread, a possible spread, of coronavirus that we don’t want. So that’s going to be part of that we’re message sending out. I want part of the communication to be things like, we want you to contact Riley County Health Department if you’ve been to any of these locations if you have any of these symptoms. Because we are concerned about people bringing things back from other places.” 

Manhattan is also in a unique position being a University town and having Fort Riley in such close proximity. These institutions mean more travel than a typical rural Kansas town and thus more chance for infection.

“Given a lot of other communities in the state of Kansas, I feel like Manhattan is a little bit different because of the university in Fort Riley,” School Board representative Kristen Brighton said during the board meeting. “A smaller rural community in western Kansas may not be in the same decision point that we are. I feel like that’s something that people have to keep in mind, there’s still people who feel like we’re overreacting. But I think we all know people who are coming back to Manhattan probably in the next 48 hours who have been overseas, or at least in other parts of the country.”

 

Academics, activities and athletics

The district will be temporarily suspending all classes, activities and athletics until March 30. There is currently no plan to resume classes online or through other means and no meetings of extracurricular activities  will be permitted. 

“We are pushing pause on all Manhattan High School brick and mortar classes,” head principal Micheal Dorst said. “At this time we are not moving to an online version of our brick and mortar classes…and not doing any assignments. We may give us suggestions, ‘you may want to read’ this, but nothing that’s going to be required for grading.” 

The main reasons for not putting classes up online are lack of teacher-training and the lack of ability to meet Individual Education Plan requirements. 

“Meeting minutes and requirements on IEPs for exceptionalities is virtually impossible to do [with online school],” Assistant superintendent Micheal Reid said. “I don’t know any school that’s going to be able to meet those requirements unless they weren’t already set up to meet them, I’ll say like MVA can meet those requirements with a select number of people but not on the scale we’re talking about.”

The Kansas State Department of Education does allow for online education if schools meet certain requirements. USD 383, however, could not meet those or implement changes to equip themselves to meet them in such a short timeframe. According to assistant superintendent Eric Reid  root of the problem comes down to discrimination. Manhattan doesn’t have one-to-one technology or guaranteed internet access for all students, meaning online school would be selective as to who it could help. Even if USD 383 had these provisions giving all students adequate access to technology, Individual Education Plan  students couldn’t meet their education standards with required minutes with paraeducators meaning online school couldn’t support them. According to Reid, home visits by paraeducators would defeat the purpose of isolation. 

“I think you do that then we’re exposing people,” Reid said. “If that one para is exposed, presenting or has it without showing symptoms, and they go around visit 30 houses now, the math just doesn’t work.”

Along with discrimination concerns, not all teachers are prepared to teach their classes online at this point in time. 

“To use Canvas efficiently is part of the responsibility for Manhattan High School,” Dorst said. “And that’s one reason why, when asked weeks ago by staff what we can do and I mentioned… [if] you’re not already on Canvas, if you don’t have your class utilizing Canvas, do that now… Because as a teacher, as a school, if we understand how to use Canvas efficiently and effectively, that I think that we could do this for the majority of our kids.”

It’s also important to remember that time needs to be made up for all students, PreK through 12th grade. Distance learning will be difficult to achieve with younger grades. As board member Curt Herrman put it: “It’s hard to imagine a first or second grader sitting there doing distance learning.”

“We’ll be talking about [online schooling],” Superintendent Dr. Marvin Wade said. “But at this point in time, I don’t see it as very realistic as a PreK-12 answer to something other than having kids at school.” 

All athletics and activities will be cancelled until the 30th to protect students and community members.

“There are no practices,” Dorst said. “No activities, no practices, no tryouts and no rehearsals. So all athletics and activities are going to be put on pause. Official and unofficial. We don’t want unofficial meeting places because that defeats the purpose of keeping social distance and ultimately what we’re trying to do.”

 

How time may be made up

It isn’t yet clear how time missed will be made up in order to meet the 11,160 hours required by the state of Kansas. The issue will be further discussed at Wednesday’s school board meeting but there are a few options open. 

The possibilities include extending the school year by two weeks, using the built in time at the end of the year and asking for a state waiver. Despite the loss of instructional time, the decision to close school was made as a mandatory measure leaving the district in a position of working  from the present situation with no clear solution. 

“Our requirements and responsibilities are vastly different between a voluntary closure and a required closure,” assistant superintendent Eric Reid said. 

Because the shutdown is mandatory the school is more likely to get a waiver approved from the state than if it had been a voluntary measure. As schools across Kansas close the state is likely to implement changes. However, ideally the time would be made up in order to cover all the content needed. 

“We’re looking at a couple different options right now,” superintendent Dr. Marvin Wade said. “There’s some different ways that you can handle this and it’s going to depend on how long these precautionary measures are going to be necessary. So we do have some options and [extending school by two weeks] would be one.”

While some students may cheer at the prospect of two extra weeks of spring break, the crush to get in content at the end of the year and boredom that comes with two weeks social isolation will likely make the time less enjoyable.

“I don’t think you guys are going to like this,” Assistant superintendent Eric Reid said. “After two weeks, you’re going to be ready to go back to school too. It’s not my choice, I would rather be in school.”

The largest problem with adding days to the end of the year is delaying the pending construction. The district hopes to have Oliver Brown Elementary school built and sixth grade included in the middle schools in the summer of 2021. It isn’t yet clear how a delay will affect plans.

“The [construction companies] have been great working with us,”  Wade said. “We haven’t talked specifically about this situation because it’s been moving so quickly but they’ll work with us.”

 

This is a developing story. Updates will be made via additional content on MHSMentor.com

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