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Schools keeping families informed during pandemic
Administrators fight against rumors
usd 428 sept. masks
As the 2020-2021 school year begins, students at Eisenhower Elementary are seen adapting to new health and safety protocols while learning in the classroom.

Parents of Great Bend USD 428 students receive texts or emails if there’s been a positive case of COVID-19 in their child’s school. In most cases, that’s general information that the public can also view on the district website.

If a family does need to take action, the district’s notifications become more specific, USD 428 Public Information Director Andrea Bauer told the school board Monday.

If students are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, those families are notified directly via a phone call, Bauer said. “There’s a script that we go by to make sure we hit the high points and answer some questions, because there are specific things that families need to know when they’re told their child has close contact.”

Assistant Superintendent John Popp said the district protects the privacy of individuals when keeping the public informed.

“We don’t provide any kind of personally identifiable information,” Popp said.

Even though the district works hard to keep the public informed, administrators find themselves dealing with false information posted on social media or spread by word-of-mouth. 

“I would say there have been lots of rumors,” Popp said. Two weeks ago there was a rumor that the high school would close down the day after Labor Day and this week there was a rumor that Great Bend Middle School would close.

“That’s not something that’s happening at this point,” Popp said. “Of course, we don’t know — it could change tomorrow — but as of right now it’s not a conversation we’re having.”

Changes in response to the pandemic are to be expected but the district is determined to keep the public informed, Superintendent Khris Thexton said.

“Our goal is to give the community as much advance notice as possible,” Thexton said. “We’ll definitely try of keep that information out there and we’ll let people know as soon as we can.”

District employees also need to stay informed of the constantly changing guidelines – and what to do if they test positive for COVID-19 or are in close contact with someone who tests positive.

Keeping everyone informed of the latest guidelines has been “a non-stop roller coaster,” Popp said. “(I’m) trying to keep people informed and answer everybody’s questions. You can send out all the emails in the world, that tell everybody how it can go, but when they get that call that they’ve tested positive or that they’re going to be quarantined, they want to talk to you or somebody (about) their specific situation.” All of the district administrators spend time answering this type of questions, he said.

Pandemic changes

The pandemic has affected schools in many ways, administrators noted. Instead of holding open houses at Great Bend schools this year, buildings held virtual open houses online.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year Banquet has been delayed by the pandemic. Great Bend USD 428 nominates two teachers for this honor every year but they won’t be doing that this year. Instead, the 2020 nominees from April of this year will hold the designation for two years. They are Jessica Geist, who teaches sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary, and Wendy Popp, who teaches math at Great Bend High School.

The pandemic has also prompted the USD 428 Education Foundation to cancel this year’s dinner and auction fundraiser, which is typically held in November. Thexton said the foundation is working on creating a virtual fundraiser this year.

In some cases, changes at the state level have streamlined earlier guidelines. This week the Kansas State Department of Education made a change to the remote learning plan for students, who will no longer be required to fill out a detailed daily log. Now, parents are just asked to fill out and sign and date a form assuring their child will complete the assigned work and will remain in contact with teachers.

teacher student masks Eisenhower
A teacher and a student at Eisenhower are shown in the hallway on a recent school day. Both are wearing masks, a condition of the USD 428 School Re-start Plan for 2020.