Pottawatomie County schools navigate next steps in pandemic

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
Shawnee Public Schools

Before Thanksgiving break, various schools in Pottawatomie County went to distance learning to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Now that the break is over, many districts have revealed the next steps in their learning plans. 

According to Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace, students at SPS went to virtual learning Wednesday, Nov. 18 and will stay in in distance learning through Dec. 4. 

"We will resume our regular schedule on December 7, allowing students two weeks to finish the fall semester before heading into Winter Break," Grace said. 

Grace encourages parents, students and staff to continue practicing the necessary safety measures to prevent them from contracting or spreading the coronavirus. 

"It is extremely important that at all times that you wear face coverings in public, keep social distance as much as possible, monitor your and your family’s temperature, wash your hands frequently, sanitize routinely and stay home when you are not feeling well," Grace said. 

In addition to Shawnee, McLoud Public Schools also went to virtual learning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

According to superintendent Steve Stanley, the McLoud district planned to offer in-person instruction again beginning Monday.  

However, Stanley said due to the increase in cases, McLoud schools will remain in distance learning through Dec. 4.  

Stanley said the district hopes to return by Dec. 7, but that decision will be made based on the number of positive cases and maintaining the safety of students, educators and staff.  

While Shawnee and McLoud are only offering virtual learning, Bethel Public Schools switched to their alternative schedule Monday. 

According to Superintendent Tod Harrison, while district cases are low, the current number of positive coronavirus cases are predicted to push Pottawatomie County into the red category. 

"Our plan will be to move to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday in-person schedule and provide distance or virtual learning to those students on Tuesdays and Thursdays," Harrison said. "The first step will lessen exposure opportunities and allow for extra deep cleaning of facilities two days a week." 

Harrison said teachers and staff will remain on campus each day of the week to facilitate learning.  

"The Alternative Education students will be notified of any schedule changes to their program," Harrison said. 

The superintendent said in-season sports and activities will continue with additional COVID guidelines in an attempt to protect students who wish to participate as long as possible. 

"These guidelines are being discussed now and will be published in the same manner within the next few days," Harrison said.  

Harrison said with the potential uptick in positive case numbers due to gatherings at Thanksgiving, the chance for outside of school exposure is a concern. 

"Now is a very good time to avoid large gatherings. We ask that everyone be mindful of this in regard to your family's health and safety," Harrison said. 

The superintendent said it is the goal of the district to return to full-time, in-person learning when it's safest for everyone.  

"We will continue to consult with our county health department for guidance on all future decisions," Harrison said. "These decisions will be evaluated each week and changes will be published as early as possible."  

Along with McLoud and Shawnee, Tecumseh Public Schools sent students to distance learning. 

According to Superintendent Tom Wilsie, before the Thanksgiving break there was an increase in the number of students and staff who were required to quarantine which made it challenging to hold in-person courses.  

Due to the continued rise in quarantines, Wilsie said the challenge of finding substitutes to cover classes remains. 

The administrator said the district will continue virtual learning the week of Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. 

“We will continue to monitor our number of cases throughout the week as we make decisions for the remainder of the first semester,” Wilsie said.  

Dale Public Schools returned from distance learning Monday, Nov. 30 and encourage students and faculty members to remain home if they're expierincing COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to COVID-19. 

Check back for updates.