PITTSBURG, Kan. — The USD 250 Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education on Monday approved delaying the start of school for an additional week, until Aug. 26, as well as a "Return to School Plan" that allows for a remote learning option for those concerned about exposure to COVID-19, along with precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus for students who will attend classes in-person.


The deadline for parents to apply to have their child take classes through remote learning rather than face-to-face classes is Aug. 7. The full Return to School Plan was scheduled to be released to staff on Tuesday and to parents on Wednesday, July 29.


While there may be some flexibility to switch from remote learning back to on-site learning early in the school year if it is not working out well for students, Superintendent Rich Proffitt and school board members emphasized Monday that parents and students should not expect to be able to repeatedly switch back and forth between the two options.


The remote learning option "will be 100% online and will look different than USD 250's Continuous Learning Plan that was implemented last spring," according to a Tuesday press release from the school district.


After some debate on the issue Monday, the school board approved a change to the draft of its Return to School Plan to allow remote learning students to participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, but only if the activity can be done entirely online or remotely.


For face-to-face students, there will be many new health and safety precautions in place, including requirements to wear masks or face coverings "when social distancing cannot be maintained." This will include on school buses and much of the time while students are at school. There will also be temperature checks, frequent hand washing, and hand sanitizer will be made available.


The district has bought masks for all staff and students that can be washed and reused, Proffitt said. Students will also be able to wear other masks if they want to, he said, but should not expect their school to continuously resupply them with disposable masks because it will get too expensive.


"We have ordered special filters for our HVAC systems, our ventilation systems, that are going to be coming in," Proffitt said Monday. "We have adjusted the rotation for those, trying to keep air ventilating 24 hours a day so it doesn’t become stagnant. We’ve redone a lot of our cleaning schedules."


Proffitt added that the district would likely be using some of its state and federal coronavirus relief funding to hire additional staff to help it meet the needs of ensuring COVID-19 safety precautions.


Besides its face-to-face, on-site model and its remote learning model, USD 250 also has plans for a "hybrid model," but this "will only be used in the event that Local Health Officers or administrations deem it to be necessary, for students or families placed in quarantine due to COVID symptoms, or exposure due to travel," according to the district’s press release. "Each student may return to the On-site model after release. This model allows for a student to continue their education while at home and return to the classroom setting."


The school district added in its press release that it is committed to working with the public in preparing to reopen schools.


"There is no one-size-fits-all solution and this will not be easy work," it said, "but we will always make the difficult decisions that continue to keep our students, staff, and community safe."