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Hiawatha Elementary's Ashlyn Riley nominated for Horizon Award

Hiawatha Elementary school has announced that second-grade teacher Ashlyn Riley was nominated to represent USD 415 for this year’s Horizon Award.

Principal Paul Carver said the Kansas Horizon Award program identifies and recognizes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. The mission of the program is to recognize exemplary first-year teachers who perform in a way that distinguishes them as outstanding.

“Ashlyn Riley is an example of how any person can have a powerful impact on a school, contribute to teamwork, and show leadership qualities despite her beginning teacher status,” shared Carver. “Challenges related to COVID helped define last year, but by combining her values and skillsets, Ms. Riley stepped up in a significant capacity. Working with the elementary school’s staff, she demonstrated several digital tools to help transition students to remote learning. These are among the many traits that make her a worthy representative for the Horizon Award.”

Riley said she was very honored to be recognized as the district Kansas Horizon Award nominee.

“Despite the challenges of teaching in the middle of a pandemic, I thoroughly enjoyed my first year teaching for USD 415,” she said. “I am very thankful for the wonderful staff of Hiawatha Elementary, my awesome students, and my very supportive team. I could not have asked for a better district in which to start my teaching career.”

Candidates nominated for the Horizon Award then complete an application process where reviewers at the state level score the applications and select 32 teachers total from across the state.

“Our school is fortunate to have Ms. Riley on staff working with our students,” Carver added

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School Board votes to change spectator policy

The Hiawatha School Board met for a special meeting Tuesday morning and voted to make changes to the spectator policy that had been in effect since early December.

Based on changes made by the Kansas State High School Activities Association in late January, individual school boards had the option to make changes to their spectator policies that had been tightened up due to COVID restrictions.

In early December, KSHSAA issued the guideline that only two spectators were allowed per event. This decision actually came after the group re-evaluated a decision to allow NO spectators, following pressure from parents, schools and advice from medical officials.

At that time, Hiawatha USD 415 followed suit with the KSHSAA guidelines and have offered two tickets for each participant — whether a player, band member, coach, etc.

Areas of the gymnasiums were marked off for visitor and home sections and to allow for social distancing.

Based on KSHSAA’s decision in late January to move to four spectators per participant, school boards could again make changes to this policy, which was the reason for Tuesday morning’s special meeting.

Board members heard from HHS Activities Director Kim Lillie, along with HMS Principal Kylie Gatz about activities.

Lillie advised that for high school basketball purposes, she would advise that both gyms utilized (HHS and HMS) for games would be able to hold up to four spectators per participant. JV teams play at the middle school gym, but she noted that those teams had fewer participants, so that would mean fewer fans.

She said the high school gymnasium is big enough to hold up to four spectators per participant and still allow for adequate social distancing — for both home and away teams. She noted the away side would be condensed some due to the need to spread out the pep band for performances on game nights, but she still didn’t see a problem.

She said the cheer and dance squads will still take up the bleacher section on the south side of the gym and they will not allow a pep section — which is consistent with what other schools are doing.

“We are pretty fortunate we can open it up a bit more for all communities,” she said, noting that some schools are remaining with the two spectator limit due to the size of their gymnasiums.

However, she noted, students will be allowed to come if they are given a ticket by a participant — they will just need to sit throughout the gymnasium, and not in a group.

Gatz told the board members that her boys basketball teams had higher participation — meaning more spectators could come to support them. She recommended keeping spectator numbers at the middle school for those 7th and 8th grade events at two tickets per person — for both away and home crowds.

She said when the teams were able to play at the high school, increasing that number to four spectators per participant would be acceptable.

All games are still being livestreamed through Rainbow and the school’s Youttube channel to allow patrons to watch from home if they do not have a ticket.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser advised the board could vote to follow the KSHSAA guidelines, or be stricter on the number of spectators they allowed — based on the size of the facilities.

The board voted 6-0 with Andrea Groth absent, to allow four spectators for each home and away participant at all high school athletic games — regardless if the event is held at the HHS gym or the HMS gym. The vote also specified that two spectator tickets would be allowed for each participant for middle school events held at HMS, but four spectator tickets would be allowed for middle school events held at the high school gymnasium. This is due to the sizes of the gyms.

This change in spectator guidance will go into effect immediately.

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Library prepares for phases of reopening as remodel winds down

After being closed more than a year, the Morrill Public Library is preparing for phases of reopening as a major remodel is winding up.

Library Director Erin Verbick said the finishing touches are being put on an approximate $750,000 remodeling project that got underway in January 2020. The project was estimated to last about 8-9 months, however COVID-19 got in the way and there were many delays with construction that also included issues with deliveries of materials. Verbick said architects also had to work remotely, which added to the delays.

Verbick said there are a few lingering electrical projects, but they are making plans to reopen slowly in a series of phases with the COVID-19 pandemic still a concern.

The year 2020 has definitely been a challenge for all businesses, the library included. While the library facility itself was closed, the programs didn’t stop. They offered book curbside pick-up since June as the pandemic became more serious, along with inter-library loans.. Many of the Summer Reading programs went virtual and the library hosted a few outdoors storytimes at the Ag Museum.

The library also offered craft packets to children through the Summer Lunch Program and did outreach through various programs on Facebook, such as book recommendations and trivia games.

Verbick said they are more than ready to get the library open again and show off the new remodel. The projects included new carpet and counter tops for the circulation desks, a new meeting room downstairs, shelving, expanded areas for the die-cuts, new self-checkout kiosks and much more.

“All of the staff is very excited and we want to share it with everybody,” she said. “We can’t wait to get back.”

She said staff has been steadily working on returning books to shelving and unfortunately cannot accept extra help or have volunteers in the building for this.

The library will reopen slowly, she said, and COVID protocol will be in place. Once they get the final OK from the architects, she plans to move forward on the phases to reopen and allowing service inside to patrons.

Due to COVID, some areas of the library will remain unavailable during the first phases. This would include the stacks, she said, noting they won’t be able to allow browsing through the book collection right off the bat. Visitors at the library can issue their requests to the librarians and also utilize the self-checkout kiosks — which were funded from SPARK money that was allotted to the county.

Only one reservation per day will be allowed for the large meeting room to allow proper cleaning between activities. The new smaller meeting room will become available to the public later on. This space was formerly a staff workroom in the basement that was remodeled.

Verbick said she did not have a specific timeline, but expected the phases for reopening to get underway this spring.

“I want to see the numbers continue to decrease and once the vaccine is more widespread, we can hopefully get back to normal,” she said.

Verbick said when the library reopens, she also plans to have a virtual video tour available on the library’s website and social media for those residents who still are cautious about getting out in the public.

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Commission sticks with mask mandate again; opens Fisher Center

The Hiawatha City Commission moved Monday night to reopen the Fisher Center, with specific guidelines in place, and stick with the mask mandate for the indefinite future.

Two local citizens spoke to the commission on Monday night regarding the city mask mandate. Stuart Aller and Chris Kroll each requested that the commission rescind the mandate in the name of personal choice. Later in the meeting Commissioner Brian Shefferd made a motion was made to do just that, but it died on the floor for lack of a second.

Aller called the mask ordinance a “rights violation,” and suggested that the toll the mask mandate has taken on the public is greater than any benefit it may lend. Aller stated his belief that decisions of individual welfare belong in the hands of the citizens.

The second speaker, Kroll, is not a Hiawatha resident, but does business in town. Kroll quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci from three different points on the Covid-19 timeline, and noted that with each statement the doctor changed in his stance on mask use. The Brown County resident, who chose not to wear a mask to the meeting, called the mask mandate an “infringement of liberty” and “political theater,” noting that it is not enforced.

Mayor Bill Collins said that he is not interested in the politics of the situation, stating, “I’m interested in saving people’s lives.”

Collins then asked for representatives from local health organizations to speak. Hiawatha Hospital CEO John Broberg acknowledged some of the points laid out by Aller and Kroll, but said that the changes in information on masks and on the virus, as a whole, are due to it being a new virus that is still being studied. However, Broberg stated clearly that mask-wearing does help, and is a part of the solution.

“Numbers are down,” said Broberg. “But we’re not where we need to be.”

Questioned on a potential timeline for when he thought the mandate would be safe to lift, Broberg said that current projections point to late in the summer.

Brown County Health Department Health Officer Robin Downard shared that Brown County has 1,083 total confirmed cases, 12 active cases, 2 hospitalizations and 31 deaths — as of Monday. Downard stated that due to what she has seen in Brown County, she believes that the mask mandates have helped to reduce the active case load.

She also informed the commission that it looks like the county will receive approximately 100 vaccine doses per week, and that the department started vaccinating those on the high risk list last week, and hope to vaccinate 100 more on that list this week.

Commissioner Shefferd said that he does not believe there is any evidence that mask mandates are related to the lower active case numbers. Shefferd expressed his frustration with the long term and uncertain nature of the mandate, stating that if expectation is that a mask mandate will run through the 4th of July, “I’m not going to do it.” Shefferd then made a motion to immediately rescind the mask mandate. The motion died on the floor for lack of a second.

Commissioner Becky Shamburg discussed her decision to stand behind the mask mandate, stating that her personal view comes from talking to medical professionals, educators and citizens. Despite some speaking up against the mandate, she believes that the majority of all three of those groups still support the mask requirements. Shamburg stated that one medical professional shared the opinion that make mandates should not be lifted until every person who wants to be vaccinated has done so.

Commissioner David Middendorf echoed much of what Shamburg said, adding, “I would hate to do all we’ve done, to only go backwards now.”

The commission also heard from Stacy Jasper, who returned after the last meeting, as requested, with a plan to re-open the Fisher Center. Masks will be required at all times inside the building, and other guidelines will be announced. The commission voted 5-0 to approve opening the Fisher Center with restrictions in place.

A motion from Commissioner Shefferd to re-open City Hall and the Police Department, with mask protocol in place, died on the floor with no second, after a discussion of concerns relating to a small workforce, close working conditions, and the potential for unwieldy foot traffic on certain days of the month.

City Clerk Tish Sims made it known that customers who call ahead, or simply knock on the door are being admitted with a one in, one waiting policy.

County moves forward on letter to KDHE regarding proposed poultry facility

The Brown County Commission voted Monday morning to move forward on sending a letter to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regarding a proposed industrial poultry facility.

Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill advised that he and County Clerk Dawn Boyles had drafted a letter to KDHE for the commission’s approval. In the letter the county asked the state to further investigate the impact a poultry facility could have on the quality of water provided by the Rural Water District No. 2. In addition, several area landowners have come to the commission with concerns and are requesting a public meeting concerning the proposed facility, which will be located near Nighthawk and 270th Road, just a few miles north of Hiawatha city limits.

Hill told the commissioners that the permitting process is up to the state, and the letter will reflect that the county commission has concerns. Among concerns about potential impact on water, there is also the issue of heavy traffic on low maintenance roads to consider.

Hill told the commission the county can set up a public forum and invite KDHE, but the state group is not required to attend. He advised the county tell KDHE that it welcomes a public forum and encourage the state entity to set up a meeting.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl said he agreed the county needed to lend a voice to the situation. The commissioners approved the sending of the letter 3-0.

In other business:

Hill advised that Chris Denner, who had been appointed the head of the Community Corrections Department after the recent retirement of Venice Sloan, wished to take the position of Assistant Director, due to the time constraints of the position and his wish to still remain a Community Corrections officer. He expressed a wish to appoint Vicki Hubin — who had been named assistant director — to the director position.

Hill said he would agree with the switch in positions, as he noted Hubin was entirely capable of performing the duties that would come with the position. He noted that salaries would need to be adjusted if the commission approved the change.

The commission voted to approve the change in positions and approved Vicki Hubin’s position of Director salary to be $52,500, Chris Denner’s position of Assistant Director wages to be $25.2403 per hour, and Peggy Siebenmorgen’s position of Office Manager wages to be $19.23 per hour.

The commission reviewed the applications received for the Road and Bridge Secretary position. Commissioner Lehmkuhl suggested calling the three applicants in for interviews next Monday.

Commissioner Pollock asked County Attorney, Kevin Hill, how the county can inform the public of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the proposed wind farms. Hill discussed the possibility of another public forum for discussion of the matter.

Jan. 29 Meeting

The commission met Friday, Jan. 29 for end-of-month bill paying session and to address a few agenda items.

George Bruning, Noxious Weed Director, discussed a Public Service Announcement from Hamm’s about proper disposal of batteries. Bruning will call B& W Fire about obtaining new fire extinguishers to accommodate the fires started by the batteries. Bruning also discussed the possibility of replacing the backhoe.Bruning also updated the commission on his department. Heather Merrill will be attending the week long Noxious Weed course in March in Manhattan.

The Jan. 29 month-end claims were approved as follows: General $201,344.97; Road & Bridge 71,111.61; Historical Society 4,107.00; Employee Benefit 181,077.51; Election 50.03; Extension 16,227.70; Mental Health 11,171.00; Developmental Services 2,152.37; Conservation 6,875.00; Appraiser 7,630.60; Ambulance 20,423.88; Noxious Weed 874.06; Diversion 674.29; 911 SB50 5,981.99; ACC 2,309.94; JJCR 3,654.40; Reinvestment Grant 45.00; Services for Elderly 3,698.57; Solid Waste 44,769.62; Payroll 172.90; TOTAL $584,352.44.

The Jan. 27 payroll was approved as follows: General 77,866.43; Road & Bridge 13,888.51; Election Technology 324.63; Appraiser 4,858.04; Noxious Weed 1,663.35; ACC 10,472.66; JJA Core 9,166.41; Reinvestment Grant 3,094.15; Services for Elderly 2,457.00; Solid Waste 7,304.87; Special MVT Employee Ben FICA 7,947.21; Employee Ben KPERS 9,972.14; State Unemploy/Work Comp -156.54; Insurance -10,403.97; TOTAL 138,454.89.