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November 24th, 2020

usd 480 logoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


EDITOR’S NOTE — This meeting took place Wednesday morning, and the Leader & Times was not notified until after the meeting had already started. Kansas Open Meetings Act requires notice to those who have requested to be notified prior to meeting. We have filed a complaint with the Kansas Attorney General for the lack of notice and since the district did not stream or record this meeting.

Many schools are having to transfer to remote learning and make some other adjustments due to the rising number of cases of COVID-19. 

During a special meeting Wednesday morning, the USD 480 school board voted by a margin of 5-2 (with board member Nick Hatcher and Board President Alan Brown voting no) to  approve moving to remote learning for the district’s PreK-8 schools from Nov. 30 to Jan. 15 (with students currently scheduled to return to the building for traditional learning starting Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021), and Liberal High School will continue current hybrid method through Jan. 15. The decision will also allow student activities to continue and allow limited outside organizations to use USD 480 buildings per facility use agreement.

USD 480 Director of Operations Chad Mease gave an update on COVID-19 in the district at the board’s last regular meeting Nov. 9. 

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“We’ve noticed with every major holiday, there’s been a big spike roughly two weeks afterward, whether it was Mother’s Day or Easter or a family wedding – after those types of events, Liberal saw a significant rise about two weeks afterward,” Mease said at Nov. 9 meeting. “Thanksgiving is coming up, and then after that will be Christmas, and then New Year’s, and we expect to see some spikes. If we keep going the way we are now, those spikes will be very difficult to control, and it will be hard for us to get through. We were asked about what could cause the district to go back to remote learning, so we put together some scenarios. The first one, and probably the most realistic, is we reach a point in a building that we do not have enough staff on hand to operate a building, and that could be because of COVID-19 or the flu or some other illness, which means we close that building and take all learning to a remote platform for a time before coming back. This could happen at any time and on short notice. Or, we reach a point that the active spread through a building is so great the only way to stop it is to close the building and take all learning to a remote platform.  This could also happen at any time and on short notice. Our last potential scenario we put together is we reach a point within our community that active cases are at a high rate, the hospital is incapable of keeping up with the volume and it is in our community’s best interest to close schools and take learning to a remote platform. Getting to that point would make that decision for us.”

Those scenarios, Mease said at the Nov. 9 meeting, had been planned out for some time. 

“We’ve been planning on these scenarios and planning them out since the summer,” Mease said at the Nov. 9 meeting. “Those discussions took place as we were talking about how we were going to come back to school and how we would make everything work. And since they had to switch everything earlier this year, staff knows how to work everything and what everything entails, so I feel it would actually be a smoother transition this time around should we need to do that.”

USD 480 Superintendent Renae Hickert said there were a few main points the board took into consideration during Wednesday’s special meeting. 

“At the current time, offering in person learning is difficult due to effects the pandemic is having on our community,” Hickert said. “Some of our buildings were experiencing a staff shortage. We felt Wednesday’s decision was the right one to make because it is difficult to fully staff buildings when employees have to quarantine or are ill with COVID-19 or other ailments. It was a difficult decision for the board of education to make.  All board members would love for 'normal school' to be in place, but, unfortunately, it is not possible right now. The board realizes having students at home creates a challenge for many families.  There is no perfect solution to educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hickert added parents should be on the lookout for meal program information as well as information coming from the schools regarding remote learning. Hickert added parents may need to seek out child care options as well if necessary, and the board will re-evaluate the district’s situation in January. 

With remote learning being put in place, Hickert said it is difficult at this time to pinpoint all the major benefits of the board’s decision. Hickert added the rest of the community will also have to do its part to help students get back to traditional learning. 

“It is difficult to say what all the benefits will be, and remote teaching is challenging at best,” Hickert said. “However, I have a great deal of faith in my USD 480 staff, and I know they will do everything possible to make it a positive experience. As with everything else dealing with COVID-19, we simply do not have proven solutions. It would be wonderful to see a reduction of positives/quarantines in our community. Going to remote learning will not change community numbers on its own. In order for education to return to 'normal', we need out USD 480 community as well as the entire community to do their part – wear a mask, social distancing, avoiding large groups, and all the other guidelines put out by the CDC and KDHE regarding this situation. We  would also like to express our deep appreciation for the community’s support, patience, and trust as we navigate these extraordinary circumstances as a school and a community.”

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