Monday, March 30, marked a first day of school of sorts for students throughout Miami County and across the state of Kansas as educators and families embark on a home-based learning endeavor due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Students and educators have been preparing for the change ever since Gov. Laura Kelly announced on Tuesday, March 17, that all K-12 school buildings in Kansas will be closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year due to the fast-spreading virus.
A state task force was assembled to work out the guidelines of a “continuous learning plan,” and the findings were released Wednesday, March 18, in the form of a 76-page document.
Local school district officials spent last week working out the details with staff members and preparing to launch the new home-based learning plan Monday, March 30.
Paola High School released a hype video on its Facebook page Sunday night to pump up students for classes beginning the next day. The video highlighted the new workplace for PHS teachers, which included home offices, decks and even farms and tractors.
Paola USD 368 school board members reviewed several details of the plan during a special video conference board meeting Thursday, March 26.
Assistant Superintendent Tammy Thomasson said a variety of tools and resources will be utilized by teachers and students, including email, Zoom video conferences, packets that will be mailed out or picked up, Google Classroom and office hours for teachers.
Staff members at Sunflower Elementary School were busy Thursday, March 26, handing out packets of learning materials to families utilizing a drive-through set up. The teachers wore gloves and masks sewn by Jodie Livengood as a precaution.
The districts 1-to-1 program means Chromebooks will be provided to all students in grades 3-12, and guest Wi-Fi has been opened up at each school to assist families without home internet access, Thomasson said.
Students, staff members and community members should be able to park outside of any district building and access the guest network by using the password: panthers. One of the best signal locations is the middle school parking lot between Paola Middle School and the district stadium, officials said.
Paola High School Principal Jeff Hines said students can also drive to a parking lot, download work to Google Classroom, complete the assignments offline at home, and then return to the parking lot to connect and upload the completed assignments.
School board member Cathy Macfarlane expressed some concern about students congregating for “parking lot parties” without them being monitored. Superintendent Matt Meek said the Wi-Fi is being offered to the community in good faith, but the district can’t monitor the areas at all times.
“We’re the educators, we’re not the parents,” he said.
Also during the March 26 meeting, school board members approved the continuous learning plan waiver application to waive the 2019-20 attendance requirements. Meek said state statute requires each student to receive 1,116 hours of instruction, and the district was at 864 hours before the shutdown, putting it 252 hours short.
School board members also approved a resolution assuring that district staff members will be paid throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Everyone will continue to get paid for their regular contracted or scheduled hours,” Meek said, adding that coaches will also get paid, but there will be no extra-duty or substitute teacher pay.
The school board members also approved a resolution suspending the district’s graduation requirement of 28 credits for Paola High School seniors, but district officials said the hope is that it won’t affect any students.
Meek said the state requires 21 credits to graduate, and the additional seven credits for Paola seniors come from elective classes. The plan, he said, is to continue as normal, but by waiving the requirement of 28 credits, school administrators will be given the ability to make sure a senior doesn’t fall through the cracks due to the COVID-19 changes.
Hines reiterated that each student will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and it is not his intent to allow every student with only 26 or 27 credits to graduate.
“This will only be utilized in dire situations,” he said.