Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 threw a wrench into the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.


On March 17, Gov. Laura Kelly ordered K-12 schools to close for the remainder of the academic year.


The announcement came at the onset of spring break for USD 363, USD 457 and Garden City Community College.


Before the announcement, the school districts and community college made the decision to extend spring break an additional week. That became an important planning week for how the remainder of the school year would be handled.


Scott Myers, superintendent of Holcomb USD 363, said his district began generating a plan for the possibility of a school closure a couple of weeks earlier.


Myers said officials had an inkling that something was coming around late February or early March, so they figured it would be a good idea to begin planning.


"That was pretty early, but we had to come up with some ideas on if we end up being homebound, or if we end up having to go online, what’s that going to look like?" he said. "I’m glad we did, because the whole world changed over spring break for us."


Steve Karlin, superintendent of Garden City USD 457, said that district’s officials also began following the coronavirus situation in February and held their first meeting in regards to COVID-19 on March 12.


They began planning for continuous learning during spring break.


"There was an additional week of no classes and then we started our continuous learning plan on May 30," Karlin said. "The district put into place a continuous learning plan and implemented the plan in one week."


Ryan Ruda, president of GCCC, said the college began planning the week before spring break, about March 15, for an altered school year.


"Within a week's time frame of us having these conversations we'd gone from saying we're going to extend spring break by a week and look at bringing students back to we're extending spring break and we're moving strictly online after that point," he said. "Everything was just moving fast and you had a lot of decisions to make in a short amount of time."


It was a scramble to get technology, internet access, food service to deliver meals, and continuous learning plans in place for students.


Now, with the regular academic year nearing an end, the question remains: What will happen next year?


Myers said his "crystal ball is a little cloudy right now" and he doesn’t know what the next academic year will look like, which is why the district is developing three different models.


"We’re building one model where we’re back in the brick and mortar, a second model of continuing with what we’re doing and getting better at things we’re succeeding with and dropping the stuff that might not have worked," he said. "Then the third model is a hybrid."


Having multiple models allows the district to be able to pivot depending on what the situation is closer to the beginning of the next academic year, Myers said.


Karlin said USD 457 is looking into "contingencies for school next year after the (2019-20) school year ends. The district is expecting additional guidance from KSDE this summer."


While he doesn’t know what the school year will look like, Karlin said, it will likely include more awareness, personal hygiene and prevention measures, as well as social distancing.


Myers agreed and said his district is looking into such ideas as smaller classrooms, desks that are more spaced out and masks.


They’re considering everything, Myers said.


"Next week ... I'm having the school nurses come and we're discussing that very topic of what if we can have 50% occupancy, how do we do that? What do we do? Do we only have 10 kids per classroom and find more classrooms? Do we do away with tables and only have desks?" he said. "Then we have to talk food service. How do we feed enough kids effectively when you have to be kept so far apart from each other? All of those variables are being considered, I just don't know which one is going to be played."


Ruda said GCCC is doing something similar for its fall semester, as it has already decided to continue offering only online courses for the summer session.


Ruda said the college hopes to return to face-to-face classes and as close to normal operations as possible, so officials are planning for that while also looking into safety measures that could be implemented across campus.


One of the safety measures includes putting up plexiglass barriers at the open counters for the business and administration offices, Ruda said.


The college also is considering a hybrid model or flip classroom model — meaning the number of students in a classroom at a time would be limited — for schooling in the fall, Ruda said.


Ruda said GCCC may have a situation where it will still have sections of classes that have 25 students but if, for example, it’s a Tuesday-Thursday class, maybe only half the students will be in the classroom on Tuesday and the other half will be participating via Zoom. Then on Thursday they would flip, Ruda said, and the half that were on Zoom Tuesday will be in the classroom and the others will be on Zoom.


"We're looking at a lot of different models that will help maybe get us back to a face-to-face environment, but incorporating a lot of the social distancing and (other) aspects that we need to be thinking about into a lot of our planning," he said.