COVID-19 has changed many aspects of the way schools operate, but so far the virus has not derailed snow days in Abilene USD 435.
Even though schools now have the ability to operate remotely via the Internet, Abilene Public School students will still get a snow day if weather conditions warrant, said Abilene Superintendent Greg Brown.
A few weeks ago, an unusual late October winter storm dumped snow and sleet over south central Kansas, leading several school districts in that part of the state to cancel class for the day.
For Abilene administrators that brought up the question of how snow days should be handled, Brown said.
“If everybody (students) took their devices home every day we could still have school, but our elementary students don’t do that. They don’t take their devices home every day,” Brown said.
Another consideration has to do with the fact that whenever school is in session, lunches still need to be served. The USDA’s federal food service program is offering free meals this year due to COVID-19.
“If we were to have a snow day, but yet hold school remotely, we are responsible to serve lunches — pickup lunches for the community,” Brown told Board of Education members during their Nov. 9 meeting.
That means food service staff would have to arrive early to prepare lunches, usually the worst time of day in a winter storm. Also, if the weather persisted throughout the day, it could jeopardize the safety of patrons by asking them to venture out to pick up the meals.
“That seemed counterproductive as well,” Brown said.
He referred to a story about how valuable snow days would be for people “working in the trenches” during the COVID-19 crisis.
“That said, unless we get snow for days and days and days, when we have a snow day, it’s going to be a snow day,” Brown said.
Brown told board members that the district’s 2020-21 budget would be slightly less than what was anticipated, but not significantly different.
Brown and Clerk of the Board Joan Anderson recently looked at the final numbers and determined the impact is less than a one percent change in general and supplemental general funds, he said.
Abilene’s enrollment was lower than expected this summer due to uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
School enrollment numbers determine the amount of state aid a Kansas public school receives which funds the bulk of Kansas public school budgets.
Sept. 20 was the official enrollment or “head count” day for Kansas public schools.
“It’s (Abilene enrollment) not the wreck I was afraid we might be facing in August,” Brown said. “Our enrollment needs to improve a little bit next year and we believe it already has. I think we had at least 25 students enroll since count day.”
Even though additional students have enrolled, that will not help the district’s budget this school year.
“We don’t get paid for those (students),” Brown said. “Nobody gets paid for those.”
Construction on the Abilene High School Vocational Education building renovation is moving closer to completion, Brown said.
It was hoped one classroom would be finished this week to allow an instructor to move out of the wrestling room back into the vo-ag building.
Board President Kyle Becker said he and AHS Principal Ben Smith have been checking on the status of the building project on a regular basis.
“All of a sudden it’s falling together really quick,” Becker said about the con-struction.
• Brown told board members that Abilene schools’ new pre-Kindergarten program at Kennedy Primary School has been well attended with 30 youngsters currently enrolled.
Due to special education needs for the preschool program, the district planned to hire a special ed para to help out. Brown said that position is part of categorical aide which helps fund the salary.
• The board approved early graduation requests as part of the consent agenda for about 15 to 18 AHS seniors.
In a typical year, only a handful of students apply to graduate early, but this year AHS administrators encouraged students to apply if they were close to having the credits to graduate early “for the sheer fact of reducing numbers (in the high school) in the second semester,” explained AHS Principal Smith.
• The board also approved several graduation credit requests following an executive session held to protect student privacy.
Abilene High School’s credit requirements are more stringent than what the state requires for graduation making it difficult for some kids — especially those whose families move out of the district for family or struggle for other reasons to get the required number. Board policy allows a committee that includes the AHS principal, a teacher and counselor to evaluate each individual situation and consider whether the student can graduate with the state number of required credits rather than the higher number required by the district.
• In an unrelated matter, Brown said he was recommending the board deny a request for an out-of-district student to attend Abilene schools. In this case, the student’s family was moving out of state and wanted the student to still attend Abilene schools using remote learning.
“We don’t feel like that’s what we had in mind when we set up remote learning,” Brown said.
• The board approved a $1,500 Live Well grant from the Community Foundation of Dickinson County and expressed appreciation to Abilene High School student Claire Weishaar who applied for the grant.
In her grant application, Weishaar indicated the funds will be used to concentrate on the themes of mindfulness, healthy eating, connecting with others, digital cleansing and gratitude during the second semester at AHS. The project includes offering yoga sessions during seminar three days a week.
• Brown said the school board and administrative team met Oct. 28 to look at the new strategic plan developed last year and to examine the KESA (Kansas Education Systems Accreditation) and how the two line up.
• AHS Assistant Superintendent Dana Sprinkle gave a district learning report focusing on the FastBridge screener.
• Brown said Nov. 16-20 is American Education Week.
• School Board member Jennifer Waite will serve as the board’s delegate during the annual KASB (Kansas Association of School Board) conference in December. The meeting will be held online. Board President Becker will serve as alternate.
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.