USD 333 board pushes back start date
Students in Concordia Unified School District 333 will return to the classrooms, for the first time since March, on August 19.
The USD 333 board of education, on a vote of 6-0, approved amending the 2020-2021 school calendar during a special meeting on Thursday.
The calendar passed by the school board back in December had school starting on August 11. The amended calendar pushes the start of school back to August 19, to give the district time to provide training for faculty and staff on the measures that will be in place to hopefully mitigate the risk presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced earlier this week that she would issue an executive order pushing the start of school back for all districts in the state to at least September 9.
The executive order had to be upheld by a majority vote of the Kansas State Board of Education.
The state board met on Wednesday, and voted 5-5 on a motion to affirm the governor’s order, meaning it would not be implemented.
Following that decision by the state board, a special meeting of the USD 333 board was called to decide when school would start.
Superintendent of schools Quentin Breese recommended to the school board that the start date be pushed back to August 19.
“Why did we do that? It is to correlate with the other schools in the area that are starting on the 19th or 20th. So that is the reason we are trying to do the 19th. It gives us seven to 10 extra days of professional development time to help our staff and our teachers to get prepared,” Breese said.
Breese said the administration had spoken with Dr. Dorothy Breault, County Health Officer, and Brandi Bray, Cloud County Health Department administrator, and they would support the August 19 start date.
“As an administrative team, I think we all felt like this was a good plan moving forward so we can get all of our kids here,” Breese said, “I think the challenge of continuing to wait is, they have been out for six months already. We have some families already jumping in home school and buying some online curriculum. We certainly want to keep the kids in our system.”
Members of the public addressed the school board before it cast its vote on amending the calendar.
Conner Thrash, who will be a senior at Concordia High School, said he knew the board has heard from the community, but he wanted to give them a student’s perspective.
“Just wanted to give you my perspective as a student who will be in that building five days a week, eight hours a day. I will be experiencing that. I will be on the floor, I will be in those crammed hallways, I will be in those crammed classrooms. I will be touching things that hundreds of others have touched. And yes, this happens on a daily basis even without COVID. However with a virus like this that doesn’t have an antiviral or a known cure, we can’t risk it,” Thrash said, “We have one chance to get this right, we have one. We can’t just open, infect hundreds of kids, close, and then reopen again in another month.”
Thrash said that the district doesn’t have enough manpower to risk a group of teachers getting sick.
“I care deeply about my faculty, and my educators and my administration. I worry about everyone in that building. We have one chance to keep them safe,” Thrash said.
Thrash said that his point of view is to delay the start of school until after Labor Day weekend so the district has time to throughly plan for reopening.
“It gives you guys time to make sure that your students, your community members, your family, your educators, your faculty are safe,” Thrash said, “I cannot stress this enough. We have one chance to get this right.”
Chris Stiles, an English and video productions instructor at Concordia High School, informed the board that he was speaking on behalf of a group of educators with whom he had been communicating.
“We don’t know what is going on. We don’t know what we are going to do. We don’t know how we are going to handle this,” Stiles said.
Stiles said that the teachers want to be safe, they want the students to be safe and they want to provide a top-notch education.
Stiles said that he was not aware that online learning or a hybrid learning plan was an option until receiving a notice about enrollment.
“News to me. News to all of us teachers, and we are the ones who have to do this. We need the time to get this right. We want to do it right. You have got a damn good staff in this town. So give us the time. Give us the resources and we will blow this out of the water. We will take care of this. We will get the best, safest plan for our kids,” Stiles said.
Dr. Justin Poore, with the Family Care Center, told the board that the virus is new and the medical community still doesn’t know a lot about it.
Poore said that there are obvious concerns about what is going to happen when all of the students return to school.
“We have not had large groups of kids around one another,” Poore said.
Poore said that he didn’t know if waiting until September 9 to begin school would be a popular decision or not.
“I think medically it is going to give you more time with the state, and with the state’s numbers. Personally, I would like to see the state’s numbers trending downward before we started putting a bunch of people into large gatherings.” Poore said, “I would tell everyone in this room that if you have an opportunity to promote mask wearing in public and social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, that I would certainly recommend doing that. Because that is going to give us our best chance of getting school started.”
Poore said that he doesn’t have any desire not to have kids in school.
“But I agree that we need to make sure we are taking time, and we get this right. So my hope is that you guys would consider delaying even further than you are proposing. Trying to make sure we have got everything in place, to give our teachers what they need,” Poore said, “I do worry. We have not just kids to think about. We have teachers, we have got custodial staff, we have got lunch staff, we have got paras and then we have got the parents and the grandparents when kids go home.”
Poore urged the board to maintain the flexibility to push the start date of school back if the situation warrants.
Board member Tim Beims said that his biggest concern was to make sure the teachers are fully equipped and fully understand how they are going to deliver instruction in the safest way possible.
“Particularly if we have got a hybrid delivery mechanism, or if, God forbid, we have to shut the school down and are moving back and forth between a classroom type of delivery and an online delivery,” Beims said, “We can set a date regardless of whether if that is after Labor Day or before Labor Day, but we need to make sure we are watching the numbers, to make sure that our staff and our faculty are completely on board and are 100-percent comfortable with the start date we choose. If we need to monitor it, if we need to change it, we have the flexibility to do that.”
Board member Bryan Bombardier said that there is a known damage in delaying the start of school.
“If we delay we lose instructional time, we lose potential classroom time, we lose social-emotional stimulation for students, potentially nutritional. We have to balance that against a potential risk of an infection. That is an unenviable position,” Bombardier said, “I think the administration has a great plan. I think they have a great mitigation strategy, so I fully support Mr. Breese on everything he has proposed thus far.”
In other action taken during the meeting, the board approved the purchase of eight InVid Technology thermal body cameras at a cost of $162,532.
The body cameras will check the temperatures of those entering the buildings in the district.
An executive order signed by Kelly mandates that all districts do temperature checks.
USD 333 will apply for Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARKS) funds that Cloud County received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
The board also approved a Coronavirus Relief Fund memorandum of understanding.
The board met in executive session for 30 minutes for the purpose of discussing non-elected personnel.