USD 377 Board Members Kelli Bottorff, left, and Nancy Keith take part in some action during a special meeting Thursday morning to decide when to start school.

Although about a week earlier than scheduled, Atchison County Community Schools leaders plan to start schools ahead of the Labor Day week despite Gov. Laura Kelly’s recommendation.

USD 377 Board of Education members convened for a special morning meeting July 23 at the central office in Effingham. After a rather lengthy discussion, board members voted 5 to 1 to start school on Thursday, Aug. 20. Board Member Nancy Keith voted in the negative.

While board members mulled whether to start school on Wednesday, Aug. 12, according to 2020-21 school calendar adopted back when the pandemic was unheard of, or to follow Gov. Kelly’s recommendation to delay the start of school year until Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

“I’m one wanting to wait to Labor Day,” said Keith, a former educator and school administrator. “I’m very leery about this pandemic.”

Board Member Greg Smith said he was just the opposite and that he wanted to get school started.

Board members gathered one day after Kansas State Board of Education members vote on whether to follow Kelly’s recommendation or to proceed with the traditional school starts resulted in a split vote that left it a matter for local school boards to decide.

Superintendent Andrew Gaddis said he surveyed school staff to get their input on the subject. About 60% indicated they were ready to start at the traditional time, along with many saying they would like an extra week to help to prepare and plan to make adjustments due to pandemic. Staff preferring to wait until after Labor Day was in a 30% to 40% range, Gaddis said.

President Lori Lanter, Vice President Barb Chapman and members Corey Neill and Jim Cormode virtually joined the meeting from other locations.

Chapman said she discussed the matter with some parents who are not comfortable with possibilities their children might risk exposure while at school and her feelings are somewhat between a traditional and delay start. Chapman also referenced that there are options available like remote learning out of the classrooms.

Lanter said she is in favor of starting school in August instead of waiting until September in the event there will be another lengthy interruption of school due to a “spike” in COVID-19 cases.

Neill made the motion to start school on Aug. 20, which garnered a second and subsequently passed.

Gaddis recommended staff come to work for two paid professional development training days during the week of Aug. 13, and board members agreed by consensus.

Gaddis told board members about notification he received from Kansas Department of Education advising him that the district is not allowed to contract with a third party vendor to offer virtual classes for Atchison County Elementary School because the district had not done so in the past years for grades seven to 12. Gaddis also informed board members that some items and equipment in wake of the COVID-19 might not arrive until a few days after school starts because the district is not considered to be a large purchaser.

Cormode asked if students will be able to access lessons if there are technology issues with satellite provided-internet during the class times. Gaddis said the information should be stored in the cloud long enough to give students the ability to retrieve it.

Gaddis reminded board members that enrollment opens on Monday, July 27.

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