The first day of school in Great Bend has been moved back one week, from Aug. 20 to Aug. 27. The delay gives teachers five extra days of training for the new safety measures and other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We definitely want to give our staff more time to prepare,” Superintendent Khris Thexton said. “The delay gives us five extra days ... to be sure everybody’s on the same page and the staff know what to expect. We feel this is the best thing that we can do to make sure that they’re successful as we start the school year.”
Teachers will be ready from the start if the pandemic suddenly prompts more restrictions and face-to-face classes have to switch to remote education or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
Assistant Superintendent John Popp said his wife is a teacher and he understands the frustration, “the idea of telling a teacher ‘OK, today we’re on-site, but we may get information tomorrow that you have to go completely remote.’ ... Hybrid is the same kind of thing, that the kids who are home for that next day need to have some kind of learning assignment.”
Starting before Labor Day will allow the district to fulfill the 1,116 hours of contact time agreed to earlier this month.
Two teacher in-service days will be moved from later in the year to the days before school starts, so only three school days will be lost. Those won’t have to be made up and the district won’t need to lengthen its school day to hit the target of 1,116 hours.
The five days of prep time gained by delaying the start of school “will definitely be beneficial,” Thexton said.
Teachers will be focusing on social-emotional learning as well as instructional learning, said Tricia Reiser, director of teaching and learning.
“Our kids haven’t been in school since March,” she said, noting their social-emotional wellbeing will vary. “Some will be okay and some won’t — for teachers as well. So we really want to spend some time on the social-emotional piece preparing the teachers to help meet the needs of the students. That’s something that we really haven’t had to do before.”
On the instructional side, teachers need to prepare students to be online learners, Reiser said. And teachers need to learn more about ways to use technology such as Google Classroom to the best advantage.
There will be district-wide technology training and training for family support workers and counselors, instructional coaches and building principals, Reiser said.
“Our principals are up for the challenge,” she said. “I’m really impressed with them; they’ve already been contacting their buildings and just yesterday Great Bend Middle School spent most of the day rolling out their plan.”
Air purification equipment
The board also approved the purchase of 215 iWave ion generators to purify air circulating in classrooms. The contract will go to the low bidder, Comfort Products Wichita, for $340 per unit, a total of $73,100.
“iWave is an air purifying device that installs in any duct air conditioning system,” according to information from the manufacturer. “When air passes over the iWave, ions produced by the device reduce pathogens, allergens, particles, smoke and odors in the air, creating a healthy environment without producing any harmful byproducts.
“iWave uses patented technology, called needle-point bi-polar ionization, to create equal amounts of positive and negative ions. When these ions are injected into the air stream, they break down passing pollutants and gases into harmless compounds like oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor.”
Federal money for expenditures related to the pandemic will pay for the equipment.
Budget review/public hearing
The board also heard an update on next year’s budget and approved a notice of the 2020-2021 budget hearing. It will be held at 5 p.m. on August 10 at the District Education Center.
Thexton noted that the estimated tax rate for next year will be 41.440 mills, a slight drop from this year’s actual rate of 41.459 mills.
The local option budget increases by close to 1 mill (from 13.905 to 14.940), so to keep the mill levy comparable to the previous year the district will reduce the capital outlay mill levy from 7.554 to 6.500 mills. The tax to be levied is $6,241,528, a decrease from $6,956,005.
Executive order for school safety
The latest Executive Order from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly goes into effect Aug. 10 and mandates the following safety requirements for K-12 public and private schools:
• Schools shall require all students, faculty, staff, vendors and other visitors to attendance centers to cover their mouth and nose with a mask or other face covering at all times, with some specific exceptions such as while eating. Children who are not students and are 5 years of age or under — children age 2 years and under in particular — should not wear a face covering because of the risk of suffocation. Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, or communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, are also among the exemptions.
• Throughout all public or private K-12 school buildings or facilities individuals shall maintain a 6-foot distance from other individuals with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity. This requirement does not apply to in-person instruction in classrooms when masks or other face coverings are worn.
• Hand sanitizers shall be made available in all classrooms and accessible in other areas. Students and faculty shall sanitize their hands at regular intervals throughout the school day and no less than once every hour.
• Individuals entering all public or private K-12 attendance centers shall have their temperatures checked before entering the building for the first time each day.
The entire executive order may be read online at https://governor.kansas.gov/executive-order-no-20-59/.