PITTSBURG, Kan. — As students and parents prepare for the start of the school year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, at the local level in Pittsburg and Crawford County, while some aspects of what school will look like this year have become clearer recently, others remain uncertain as officials continue revising their plans.
On Monday, the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education voted to delay classes for an additional week, until Aug. 26, and to implement a "Return to School Plan," including a remote learning option, as well as health and safety precautions for students who will attend classes in-person.
Another topic that came up at Monday’s meeting, though, was whether students who take their classes through the remote learning option should be able to participate in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. After some discussion, the board approved allowing them to participate in those activities, but only if they can do so entirely online or remotely.
On Thursday, however, the board held a special meeting and approved a change of course on that policy.
Board Member Ed McKechnie made a motion to allow remote learning students to participate in the extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, but only if it can be done safely. Remote learning students will only be able to participate in activities before and after school, not those that take place on campus during the school day.
"Look, four weeks from now if we decide we want to change, I have no problem changing again if we don’t do something right," McKechnie said before making his motion. Board Member Laura Sullivan seconded the motion. The vote was 5-2, with board members Marlene Willis and Rusty Akins opposed.
At the county level, meanwhile, officials have also been second-guessing their earlier plans on issues related to schools reopening.
On Tuesday, Crawford County Public Health Officer Timothy Stebbins and County Counselor Jim Emerson said they would work on a public health order that would allow less restrictive rules in some cases. Examples would include not requiring the youngest students — who are thought to not catch or transmit COVID-19 as easily as older age groups — to wear masks, and allowing temperature checks on students to happen inside school buildings rather than before they enter.
On Friday, however, Emerson said he was not yet prepared to recommend a new county-level public health order that would deviate from requirements under a statewide order from Gov. Laura Kelly.
"What I found out last night talking to Dr. Stebbins, and I think he’s been visiting with some other people, is that we may want to put the brakes on that for a minute, maybe dig for a little more information," Emerson said. "There’s still competing thoughts out there about whether or not this order actually can be varied by the county commission."
Kelly’s order doesn’t take effect until Aug. 10, Emerson said, and while the county government will want to know what its policy is going to be by then, it still has some time to research its options and decide on the best approach.