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Emporia Public Schools Board of Education members review COVID case metrics during Wednesday’s meeting.

Emporia Public Schools Board of Education members voted 6-1 Wednesday to resume onsite learning for grades 3-5 and move to step 2 of the district’s reopening plan for grades 6-12.

The move came after presentations from members of the USD 253 COVID Advisory Committee, during which speakers specified elementary students return under 15-person per room capacities. Additional recommendations approved as part of the vote include a potential move to Step 3 for grade 6-12 students set for Feb. 8, at earliest. Board member Melissa Ogleby provided the lone “nay” vote.

“Small districts have been able to do this for a while, but large districts now — some our size, some much bigger than us — most of them are jumping in at 50% [capacity] and some are going in at 100%,” said BOE President Mike Crouch. “I think a lot of them have just realized we have to give up some of the mitigation strategies because the benefit of getting our kids back in school is more important.”

Village Elementary School Principal John Martin expressed he was “looking forward” to having students back in classes, referring to recommendations for the move by members of both the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas State Department of Education.

Reaction was more mixed among the principals of Emporia middle and high schools, who agreed getting students back into the classroom — along with promoting a sense of safety among staff — was their top priority. Still, each said they had reservations due to the size of their building populations and the requirement to relax social distancing protocols in order to progress in steps.

“Our classrooms are a bit different than the middle school, that’s why our numbers are lower when you start looking at the number of classrooms on average that might have concerns with social distancing in them,” EHS Principal Dathan Fischer said. “We have many classrooms that are much larger than some of the classrooms you’d see at the middle school.”

At Step 2, EMS will host 144 adults and a median average of 323 students per alphabet band each day (with the number of potential students increasing to 483 in a potential Step 3). Based on current numbers, a median average of three (16 in Step 3) blocks per period per day will have social distancing concerns, specifically, students being together less than 6 feet apart.

For EHS, Step 2 will entail 180 adults and a median average of 344 (536 in Step 3) students per alphabet band each day. Currently, a median average of one (five in Step 3) block(s) per period per day has the potential for social distancing concerns.

“The efficacy of the instructional delivery is because of teacher wellbeing,” EMS Principal Steven Bazan added. “I care about both audiences. I desperately want the kids in the building and the teachers do also. [Moving forward] it’ll be about addressing, logistically, the social distancing… I think we can spend the next couple of weeks finding out how to better what we currently perceive would happen if Step 3 were to happen tomorrow.”

During the meeting, the board of education also:

F Recognized Erica Zhou Wang of Emporia High School for a first place finish JAG National’s National Student Leadership Academy financial literacy competition

F Recognized Timmerman Elementary for its recent designation as a Blue Ribbon School

F Accepted a $6,000 donation from the Clint Bowyer 79 Fund to district elementary schools. Each school will be awarded $1,000 to offset expenses related to COVID-19.

F Accepted a $900 donation from Steve Sauder, which included $100 payouts to the following sports programs and activities at Emporia High School: boys and girls basketball, boys and girls wrestling, cheerleading, swim and dive, vocal music, band and theatre. A separate, $500 donation from Sauder was also given to EHS’s Spartan Stop.

F Accepted a $500 donation from Emporia State Federal Credit Union to be used in the support of the EHS Spartan Stop

F Accepted a $1,235.52 donation from the Emporia Rotary Club for the purchase of copies of the book, “Bunnaby Bunny,” which will be given to each district preschooler and kindergartener

F Accepted a $610 donation from Holman Logistics for the support of families at Logan Avenue Elementary

F Accepted a $2,500 donation from BP Cattle Company for the support of EHS girls basketball

F Accepted an $890 donation from Shirley Penze for the purchase of instruments to be used in music classes at Walnut Elementary

F Reviewed MAP testing data from fall 2019 and fall 2020 assessment windows

F Approved Resolution 2021-1, the Kansas Homeland Security Region I Hazard Mitigation Plan

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