USD 413 Board of Education members grappled during Thursday night’s special meeting with the idea of returning to the classroom on the Aug. 24 start date they originally planned, but ultimately decided to stay with the original plan. 

The meeting comes just one week after Superintendent Dr. Kellen Adams announced that six members of the district leadership team tested positive for COVID-19 after meeting for a retreat in Branson, Mo. At least one is hospitalized. 

Board member Dr. Nathan Falk made his case for delaying face-to-face contact until the date Governor Laura Kelly had set at Sept. 8.

“We need to see a decrease in positive cases. Let’s face it, administrators did not get this virus from Branson, they got it here. The virus is here in Chanute,” Falk said. “I think we made a mistake by cancelling classes back in the spring because it had not reached the Midwest yet. I am fine having virtual classes on Aug. 24, but we need to think about the safety of our students, our teachers and everyone in the community.

“With the profession myself and my wife have (Falk is a chiropractor and his wife works in the office), I worry every single day about the people I come in contact with. For instance, my daughter works at a nursing home and I worry about bringing it home to her. That would be catastrophic.”

Falk said administrators made a mistake in allowing the graduation to take place back in July.

“We packed all those students into a small locker room, with poor ventilation, for around an hour. If just one of those students had the virus, most of them would have contracted it. That was a big mistake by us. Fortunately no one had it,” he said.

Board member Ross Hendrickson wanted to monitor other districts for a few weeks before jumping into a face-to-face environment. He suggested beginning in a hybrid environment, while board member Gary Wheeler suggested resuming classes a week later on Aug. 31.

“If things go south with other districts, at least we will have the chance to reconsider our plans and go back to the drawing board,” Wheeler said.

Board President Cassie Cleaver mentioned that 57 percent of districts in the state were going to begin after Labor Day.

David Seibel argued that “This is not a one-size-fits-all process. I don’t agree with the plan Gov. Kelly put out there. Roughly one-third of our students reside in the bigger school districts, which skews the start-date numbers.”

At the end of the meeting, Falk made a motion to delay the start of school to Sept. 8, with one final plea.

“The Spanish Flu began right here in Kansas and I don’t believe we learned anything from it. We still know very little about this virus and I think we can all use the additional time to learn as much as we can.”

His words fell on deaf ears, though, as no one would second the motion. And with a 7-0 vote, the board adjourned the meeting.

Administrators are expected to lay out a plan as early as next Monday to reopen the district.

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