ALTAMONT — Labette County USD 506 students will start the school year just over a week later than originally scheduled, and parents will have the choice between in-person or remote instruction.

The district’s board of education made those two decisions on Wednesday night in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The board passed a modified calendar for the school year that moves the first day of school for students from Aug. 19 to Aug. 27. The district also front-loaded its calendar from Aug. 18-26 with professional development days in order to give teachers and staff extra time to prepare.

“Our staff’s anxiety level is through the roof because they’re professionals,” said Labette County High School Principal Shane Holtzman. “They want to be prepared. So the extra time will give them a chance to practice.” 

There will be a half-day of school for K-9 students on Aug. 27 before the first full day for all students on Aug. 28.

“I’m very excited that the board approved moving our start date back,” USD 506 Superintendent John Wyrick said. “That allows our staff to have days before kids are in the building that are designed for preparing for the unknown. Preparing for remote learning. It’ll give us more opportunity to see what will happen over the next few weeks.” 

USD 506 will also offer parents of high school students three learning model options — in-person instruction, hybrid flex and remote learning. Students at the grade schools will be offered in-person and remote options with no hybrid option.

“It’s critical to remember that the plans the board approved are living documents and very fluid,” Wyrick said. “We may be back in this room two weeks from now making modifications based on what could happen across the state and in the county with COVID-19 cases.” 

For the in-person model, students will attend classes on campus for five days a week, with the exception of a remote learning day every other Wednesday.

Masks and social distancing will be expected of students and staff, there will be enhanced safety protocols including temperature checks, enhanced sanitation and modified meal services.

For the hybrid option, which is only offered to high school students, kids will attend classes on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays and participate in remote learning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

As for the remote learning option, online daily attendance will be mandatory during school hours. Students will be required to log 350 minutes of daily activity. Students will be enrolled in their core classes through USD 506 in addition to a specific choice of electives.

Every student at the high school in addition to those at the grade schools who choose remote learning will be issued a Chromebook by the school. 

Families that choose the in-person or hybrid models will have the option to transition to remote learning at any time. Students enrolled in remote learning will make a nine-week commitment with a notice of a transition to in-person or hybrid needed two weeks prior to the end of the grading period.

“We had input from teachers, community and everybody involved,” Holtzman said. “We have a plan now that’s on paper, but it’s still a process. There’s still so much unknown.” 

Other protocols that USD 506 intends to take include limiting class sizes as much as possible to promote social distancing.

Enrollment for the school year, where parents will choose a learning model, will be on Wednesday and Thursday for the grade schools while high school enrollment is set for Tuesday through Thursday.

“We need enrollment to happen so we have a better idea of what students and families intend to do,” Holtzman said. “That’ll allow us to have a better idea and make some plans.” 

A student in on-campus classes who contracts COVID-19 will be allowed to return to in-person or hybrid instruction once cleared by the health department.

“That’s what the remote learning is there for,” Holtzman said. “Once a student is cleared by the health department, they would be allowed to transition back to on-site.” 

All students in USD 506, whether they take classes in-person or remote, will be eligible for activities including sports. Practices for fall sports will begin on Aug. 17.

“If they’re enrolled in our school, they’re eligible,” Holtzman said. “Part of that is we don’t want to discourage a parent from choosing remote learning.” 

Holtzman added that he feels the plans approved by the board on Tuesday night are in the best interest of health and safety of the district.

“The plans we have are the best ones for our community and our students,” Holtzman said. “Doesn’t mean any other district’s plan is any better or worse. Every district has different needs.”

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