Members of the USD 475 Board of Education listen to Assistant Superintendent of USD 475 Lacee Sell (far left) Friday for a special meeting where they voted to pay the wages of staff while school is out next week. School was canceled next week due to fears over coronavirus.

Friday, the Unified School District 475 extended spring break by one week in light of coronavirus and in order to keep students safe. At a special meeting Friday, USD 475 Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of paying the wages of all employees and not charging leave next week while schools are closed.

It will be discussed at a later date if this week will need to be made up at some point during the school year.

Assistant Superintendent Lacee Sell informed those present at the special meeting that the school district had received a written directive from the Geary County Health Department instructing them to keep the schools closed next week. The schools will remain closed the week of March 16 through 20.

This is being done “so that discussions can occur and decisions can be made about how to best complete the 2020 school year while minimizing the potential impact of coronavirus — COVID-19 — on the community of Junction City and Geary County,” Sell said.

Parent teacher conferences are canceled. All school events including sports practices, activities and events have been cancelled as well, including those that take place on the weekend of March 21 and 22. Out-of-state travel will not take place. According to Sell, even once school is back in session, no field trips will take place until guidance from the Kansas Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control indicates it’s safe for such events to take place.

District programs that take place outside the classroom such as Parents as Teachers, Boys and Girls Club and the like will also be closed this week.

“I cannot reiterate enough that when we say that schools are closed next week — (March) 16 through 20 — everything is closed,” Sell said. “Nothing will be occurring.”

The district, she said, will stay in contact with its employees throughout this situation and keep the public informed over its social media pages.

“Today, and yesterday, extensively, we talked over and over about how thankful we are of the patience of this community in letting us work through this first time endeavor,” Sell said.

This is, she said, a new and unexpected situation for everyone involved.

"One colleague this morning said, ‘did you think on Monday that we'd be doing this on Friday?' And I said, 'absolutely not,’” Sell said. "The thought never crossed my mind. So we can't thank you enough for your patience and your willingness to let us go through this process and learn what we need to — and this is something that is beyond educational expertise and knowledge."

She said the district had been “in constant contact with” the Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson concerning guidance released by the Kansas Department of Education and the Centers of Disease Control.

Junction City’s proximity to Fort Riley could put it at unique risk because of the number of people who come and go from the community on a regular basis in comparison with similar-sized communities in Kansas.

“This is new territory for us all,” Sell said.

It is possible the school will go to virtual classes to finish out the year, something Sell talked about at a press conference between the Geary County Health Department and Geary County Emergency Management Friday morning. If this does take place, Sell said the school has the ability to provide internet connections for students who lack them at home, free-of-charge to the students.

“If we do have the expectation of online distance learning, the school district will provide that hotspot — that access,” she said.

Sell was present at the press conference and spoke about sanitization efforts being made by USD 475 to prevent the spread of disease within school buildings.

According to information released by the district earlier this week, the district recently purchased electro-static decontamination devices, which resemble backpacks and release "an electrically charged vapor containing Virex Plus cleaning agent. The vapor adheres itself to all hard and soft surfaces. It has a three minute kill time and evaporates in under 15 minutes. Virex is the same chemical traditionally used to manually wipe contact points."

These devices can be used to prevent and contain contaminants.

The district also has three floor cleaning machines which are described as “chemical free” and which change the Ph balance of water and sanitizes the floor sans chemicals.

"We have been hard at work during the spring break to ensure that each school receives a thorough deep cleaning,” the press release reads.

To keep up with announcements from USD 475, see its website at www.usd475.org or check out the district Facebook page at Geary County Schools USD 475. More information on the way coronavirus is having an impact on schools around the state can also be found on the Kansas Department of Education’s website at www.ksde.org and the CDC’s website, www.cdc.gov, has up-to-date information about coronavirus itself.

St. Xavier Catholic School has also canceled classes next week in light of the recent situation.

Principal Shawn Augustine said Friday that Geary County Health Department had officially declared all schools in the county closed next week in the hopes of preventing the spread of coronavirus.

“They made that decision based on minimizing the potential impact of the coronavirus in the community,” he said.

As with USD 475, all activities have been canceled or postponed through March 21 and 22.

"I think the main thing is that we are being proactive and that I think that's how we need to be at this point just because this is something that is moving very quickly,” Augustine said. "We want to do our best to make sure that not only our school and our parents, and families are safe, but the community is safe, and that's what's important."

At this time, the Catholic school has not looked into utilizing similar cleaning measures to USD 475, but that it had deep cleaned the school insofar as it could using what the school had available.

Augustine said the school was mostly concerned with people coming back from spring break trips — including possibly on cruises — where they may have picked up the virus.

“Our biggest concern is that people coming back into the state have some sort of testing to minimize the amount of possibilities of (coronavirus) coming into our building,” he said.

Because of the school’s small population, a virus such as coronavirus could quickly spread through the school and incapacitate the faculty, staff, and student body.

"But I think the chances of getting into building are smaller also, just because we don't have have as many students and staff within the building,” Augustine said.

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