In a special meeting Monday evening, the USD 413 Board of Education agreed to begin the district’s school year on August 24 by a 6-0 vote. The decision will give parents a chance to determine each child’s learning environment.

Teachers will use the extra 12 days from the original start date of Aug. 12 to figure out how to adjust their classrooms to the current COVID-19 rules and regulations.

As of Monday evening, the district was still following Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order No. 20-59, which will require mask-wearing for most students and teacher when students return to in-person learning.

Under the district’s plan, parents can decide where students learn for the first nine weeks of the year.

“Parents will make an irrevocable decision to choose where their student learns until the end of quarter one. Then we will evaluate where the COVID-19 status is,” Superintendent Dr. Kellen Adams said. “Does it still make sense to continue this? Should we continue it for the entire year? We will need to evaluate what is going on. There is a need to keep continuity for students. We cannot have students saying, ‘Hey, I am back for today,’ then going back home for the remainder of the semester. The choice goes to the family.”

If parents decide the student should learn in a virtual environment, then the child can’t participate in extracurricular activities such as band or football.

“It only makes sense. If it’s not all right for a student to be here from 8 am to 3 pm, but it’s suddenly all right for the child to be here after 3 pm, that doesn’t follow what we are trying to accomplish here. We want every parent to have a choice, but they must stick to that choice,” Adams said.

Prior to the meeting, the board listened to science teacher Joe Holman from Chanute High School, who recommended delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 9.

“We have no idea what this situation is going to look like when we return to school. I think all of us can use the extra time to figure out how we are going to instruct our students. Whether that is in a virtual environment or in a face-to-face setting. I went through my classroom today and tried to figure out how I could place 24 desks six feet apart,” Holman said. 

“I still haven’t figured that out and I don’t even know that it is possible. But I think the most important thing is the safety of our students and our staff. Does it make sense to go back to school early, only to have it shut down due to an outbreak? I don’t think so.”

Board member Dr. Nathan Falk said, “Going into tonight, the most important thing on my mind was that every voice was heard. I honestly think this is the best way to enter the 2020-21 school year, because everyone has a decision to make. It doesn’t mean we will attend school face-to-face the entire year, but it ensures everyone has a choice at the beginning, and I commend you Dr. Adams for coming up with this plan.”

Late in the meeting, Adams indicated that 280 students were prepared to attend school virtually to begin the school year. The district is made up of roughly 1,800 students.

“At the end of the day, this plan gives every student to learn in an environment they are comfortable in,” Adams said. “Who knows? We may have to go to a virtual environment at a later date, but our teachers will be prepared for that because they are already teaching students online.”

Adams said the district will be holding separate zoom meetings for staff members and parents today. 

The meeting for staff members will begin at 4 pm, while the meeting with parents will begin at 5 pm. The meeting will be recorded so staff or families can watch the video at a later time. 

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