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Most Great Bend students will return to school
Students, teachers must wear masks
thexton in mask
Great Bend USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton, left, talks about enrollment during Monday’s school board meeting. - photo by Susan Thacker

Meeting at a glance

The Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education held a budget hearing Monday and also approved the school restart program. Here’s a quick look at other action items.

• The board approved the following contributions:

- Park Elementary received $610 in contributions in memory of Mrs. Rebecca Stonebraker, a dedicated teacher who retired after several years of teaching at Park Elementary.

- Park Elementary received $75 for the Drone Club from Wayne and Connie Rathbun.

- Kroger reward incentives were received for: Eisenhower Elementary, $147.64; Jefferson Elementary, $431.39; Lincoln Elementary, $441.11; and Riley Elementary, $267.47.

• Two licensed teacher appointments were approved. Amy Turner will teach special education at Riley Elementary and Lindsay Behnke will teach English at Great Bend High School.

• The board approved policy revisions recommended by the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

• Goals that will guide the board for the next four to five years were approved. These were developed after a special goal-setting meeting on Feb. 17 with Gary Sechrist, KASB leadership services field specialist. 

Great Bend USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton told the school board Monday that 2,380 students have enrolled for the fall semester and about 10%  – 244 students – have chosen the remote learning plan to start the school year.

It’s typical for some students to enroll at the last minute, especially at Great Bend High School, but Thexton said the enrollment deadline for those wanting the remote learning option is Wednesday, Aug. 12.

A few students at each school are choosing remote learning, Assistant Superintendent John Popp said. “I think we’re running about 10% across the board.”

Board members discussed plans for the start of school on Aug. 27 and they approved the latest draft of those plans. Information can be found on the district website, where there is a link to enrollment information and to “Great Bend Together - RESTART PLAN,” a 20-page document.

Masks required

Teachers and students will wear masks most of the time they are in school. A clear face shield, like the one worn Monday by school board member Lori Reneau, won’t work. That’s because Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order pertaining to schools calls for face masks, not shields, Thexton said.

The district will provide five masks for each staff member. Each student will receive five reusable cloth masks.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved the district goals that were developed during a session with Gary Sechrist from the Kansas Association of School Board back in February. The goals for student success are of particular interest during this time of pandemic. They include:

• Provide safe, secure, and effective learning environments for students.

• Support the social, emotional, and physical wellbeing of our students.

“The students have been away from us for quite a while,” Thexton said, referencing social-emotional wellbeing. “We need to rebuild relationships.”

Thexton and Popp both said the district knows there will be positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff this year.

“There’s no such thing as zero risk in anything we do and certainly not in a pandemic,” Thexton said. “Every aspect of a child’s life has been disrupted; the rewards of attending school outweigh the risks.”

Parents’ choice

That being said, it’s up to the parents whether students attend school in the attendance centers or choose the remote learning model. And, if the time comes when some schools or classrooms need to stop meeting, there is a hybrid plan for a combination of on-site and remote learning. A hybrid might include having students attend in-person classes every other day, alternating with remote days.

In all cases, students will be eligible to participate in after-school athletics and activities, following Kansas State High School Activity Association guidelines.

The remote choice

Remote learning will use online curriculum platforms that are already available to the district, such as Moby Max and Edgenuity. Students will log on for 6 hours of daily instruction, Popp said. This will be vastly different from the remote learning offered when schools suddenly shut down in March.

“What we did last spring was OK for where we were at, but it’s not OK for where we are going,” Popp said. “It’s more rigorous, much much different than in the spring.”

“This is not 6 hours in front of a screen, either,” Thexton added. Students will have time for physical education, for example. They will sign a daily log to confirm they are engaged in learning for the required 360 minutes. They will be supervised by a USD 428 certified teacher.

In the schools

For the majority of students who return to the classrooms, they can expect to spend most of their day in cohorts (small, consistent groups) with teachers going to the students when possible and practical. At elementary schools, older students may carry their lunch trays back to the classroom. That will create more space in the cafeteria so younger students can spread out.

The number of shared items will be reduced. Students will have their own classroom supplies and classrooms will be set up to maximize physical distance.

Some instructional time will be lost as students and teachers spend time cleaning surfaces between uses.

Middle school and high school students won’t be assigned lockers, Thexton said. They aren’t really necessary since textbooks can be accessed online and each student is assigned a wireless device for personal use.

An evolving plan

School board member Susan Young commented on the work that has gone into the school restart plan.

“I am so totally impressed with the work that the leadership here has done to prepare students and staff to get into school. It’s impressive," she said.

Thexton said a lot of time has been spent by teaches, coaches, nurses and people outside the organization, such as the health department. “It’s a process that’s going to continue to evolve in the coming days and weeks.”

Board member Don Williams said he also appreciated the documentation provided. The 20-page plan includes footnotes and a selected bibliography. There’s also an appendix on school nurse and health room guidelines. School nurses deal with many issues not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are guidelines for visits to the nurse, student or employee isolation or self-quarantine, communicable disease monitoring and much more.

For this school year, perfect attendance will be de-emphasized.

“If you have a fever for any reason, you shouldn’t be in school,” Popp said. Families will be encouraged to do a self-check of students’ health before going to school and children who don’t feel well should stay at home. Students will also have their temperature checked in the morning.