Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer
Note: The observer was unable to attend the meeting in person, and the school district’s live video broadcast wasn’t working. These notes are based on live online updates provided by the school district.
The Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Representatives from the Riley County Health Dept. (RCHD) were in attendance to provide information and guidance. RCHD representatives shared recommendations from the CDC about influenza, which applies because COVID-19’s symptoms are similar to the flu. Pre-emptive school closures may be implemented, which may be better than reactive closures. Board member Curt Herrman asked about a vaccine for COVID-19, and the RCHD representatives said the process to develop a vaccine is long, and it’s unknown when one might be available.
A board member asked if it would be better to wait to close schools since the situation here isn’t as serious as it is in other areas of the U.S., and the RCHD representative stressed the importance of being proactive instead of reactive and to “flatten the curve,” which is in reference to the statistical chart that shows the curve of the number of cases flattens when protective measures are implemented and helps keep health care services from being overloaded. It was asked if the RCHD’s recommendations were general or specific to Manhattan/Ogden, and the response was our community has unique conditions, such as Ft. Riley and KSU. Eric Reid, Asst. Superintendent, asked if RCHD’s recommendation to close schools was mandatory, and the RCHD representatives indicated it was a requirement.
Discussion included what the ramifications would be if schools closed, such as daycare, hourly employees, and students who have individualized education programs. The possible ramifications were at the forefront of board members’ minds. The school calendar was discussed, and Mr. Reid indicated the district has 3 days available, plus two additional days in reserve at the end of the calendar year. He indicated it would be difficult for USD 383 and other districts to transition to all virtual learning because districts need to have already had plans in place for it. Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, discussed waivers that may be needed from the Kansas Dept. of Education. He indicated there might be opportunities for blended learning, extending the school year, or asking for days missed to be forgiven.
Stephanie Smith, Dir. of Child Nutrition, indicated the district can provide “bag lunch” meals to students if needed.
A board member commented that there is no precedent for the situation, and USD 383 is in a position to lead as are school districts across the state. Karla Hagemeister indicated there is no perfect response, and every decision will impact every family and student differently. A board member asked district administration and RCHD to make a recommendation of who are the essential personnel who should report to work next week and what should the plan be moving forward.
The Riley County Health Dept. mandated that schools be closed in USD 383 until March 30th, and Dr. Wade recommended that schools be closed for a minimum of an additional 14 days. Schools will be closed until March 30th, and this will also apply to athletic and school activities.