Schools Out

Cecilia Witmer, center, receives one of the community meal packs prepared by volunteers at the United Way of Junction City-Geary County while her children pick up a lunch and breakfast Tuesday at Junction City Middle School. The Geary County School District USD 475 schools in partnership with community members are handing out bagged lunches and a sack breakfast from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday for children ages 1-18. The children must be present at time of pickup to receive a meal.

Normally happy hallways throughout the Unified School District 475 school system were filled with uncertainty and despair as students, K-12, gathered their personal items, books and laptops after Kansas Governor Laura Kelly ordered the suspension of face-to-face contact in Kansas Schools Wednesday for the duration of the semester.

On Tuesday, the schools opened their doors for the students to gather essential items during their extended Spring Break to allow them to learn from teachers online — if necessary — beginning March 23.

None of the faculty or administrators were aware of the news that would break later in the day during the governor’s 4 p.m. press conference.

On Wednesday, the schools opened again for students to gather the remainder of their items left behind.

In Spring Valley Elementary School, tables filled the cafeteria and front hallway with labeled bags — one for each student. Junction City Middle School allowed students access to their lockers to retrieve items.

For parents, this time has been one of mixed feelings.

“It’s kind of scary,” said Tammy Boon, mother of Scotty Boon an eighth grader at JCMS. “I mean, I’m glad they’re doing that, but it also just kind of shows you this a little bit more serious than people are thinking. But, I’m glad they’re taking the precautions to keep kids home and hopefully put a stop to some of this.”

For teachers, the time was also an uncertainty of whether they would get to see their “children” in the classrooms again this school year.

Seventh grade Language Arts teacher Jeff Storm was one of several volunteers, throughout the district, serving lunches to area youth at the middle school Tuesday.

He said he volunteered for a multitude of reasons.

“At the beginning of the year, when I signed a contract to teach, I don’t really see that as just being something that I do when I’m scheduled too,” he said. “I see that as me signing a contract to do everything I can to serve the kids who I have. So, what I’m doing right now … I don’t really feel like it’s my thing to sit on my hands in the middle of this.”

Lunches are being served to all Geary County children, ages 1 to 18, at several locations in the school district’s footprint.

Boon said the district and community coming together in a time like this was “amazing.”

“(It’s) absolutely amazing, because you know, I have food at home, but if we can get the help right now, save that food for when we can’t get out and get food — which is right now actually,” she said. “I mean, I’m not going out and hoarding anything — I just got our basic needs. I did get a couple extra ... I get those five gallon jugs of water because I have a system at home, I got a couple extra of those and that was it. But that’s just because we drink a lot of water. (We) always have kids around.”

With the social distancing in effect throughout the nation, having Scotty’s friends around is something that has to change, she said.

“My 13 year old always usually has about 10 friends around,” she said. “I’ve limited that to about two to four. He used to have five kids a night spend the night, so I’ve limited that to two. (I) can’t keep them from not hanging out — they’re bored too.”

Scotty said he was already “getting bored” with the extended break and was eager to get back to studying.

“He loves school,” Tammy said.

One area that Scotty was missing, according to Tammy, was the ability to partake in track which was suspended until school was scheduled to resume. Junction City High School athletics were scheduled to compete in their first events of the spring season Thursday but were suspended before the Kansas State High School Activities Association cancelled all spring events Wednesday afternoon.

The KSHSAA is committed to the safety of our student-participants and the health of our school communities, a news release said. Accordingly, in response to Governor Kelly’s Executive Order regarding the closure and cessation of in-person instruction in all Kansas schools through May 29, 2020, the KSHSAA is cancelling all spring championships, competitions and festivals for the remainder of this school year. The KSHSAA recognizes the value of school activities for all students and school communities, but the current situation does not permit the opportunity for school activities to take place in a manner that is consistent with the very reason school activities exist.

As a commitment to the health of Kansas students and communities, the best decision and only reasonable response is to cancel the regular season and post-season spring activity season. We all have an important responsibility to minimize community transmission as we embrace suggested precautions regarding COVID-19. As educators, the primary focus for our students and families is the health and well-being of each student. This action by the KSHSAA supports that effort across Kansas.

The KSHSAA strongly discourages non-school activity participation at this time in an effort to mitigate the community transmission of the coronavirus. All CDC, KDHE and KSDE recommendations for preventing disease transmission should be followed at this time for any non-school activity in which a student participates.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s announcement by the governor, Storms relayed a message to all of his students in this unprecedented time.

“So, all you are in different spots,” he said. “Just know that wherever you are, you can reach out to me, you can reach out to your other teachers. Use your resources, take care of each other. Take care your family. We love you and care about you and hopefully we get to see you again before the years out.”

The Kansas Continuous Learning Task Force was to develop a plan by the end of the day Wednesday to address the following:

• How schools will move education online so students can progress toward the end of the semester.

• How schools will assist students who don’t have access to online tools finish out the semester, especially those who are set to graduate in May.

• How schools will provide for at-risk students and those who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

• How schools will assist in providing meals for students who need them.

• What role schools can play in assisting with child care for essential local and state personnel who live in their counties.

• How schools will assist in efforts to keep children from congregating in community spaces and keep them quarantined in their own homes.

Once finalized and approved, this plan will be communicated with all Kansas schools, according to https://www.ksde.org/Home/Quick-Links/News-Room/commissioner-watson-convenes-continuous-learning-task-force-1

No plan has been released as of this writing, check back as this story develops.

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