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Governor shuts Kansas school buildings for remainder of school year

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday afternoon that school buildings across the state must be closed for the remainder of the school year.

“This was not an easy decision to make,” Kelly said. “It came after close consultation with the education professionals who represent local school boards, school administrators and local teachers. These unprecedented circumstances threaten the safety of our students and the professionals who work with them every day and we must respond accordingly.”

The following is an announcement by the Kansas State Department of Education:

“Unprecedented circumstances that threaten the safety of our students and the professionals who work with them every day require swift, thoughtful and coordinated action. On Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Laura Kelly announced that school buildings across the state must be closed for the duration of this school year for the purpose of general student and staff attendance. However, learning will continue for Kansas students.

A 25-member task force comprised of many of the state’s top educators in Kansas continues working to develop plans for Continuous Learning. The task force will deliver their recommendations to Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson by Wednesday evening. (Dr. Watson scheduled a press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday to release these recommendations.)

Kansas education is among the finest in the country. Closing classrooms and moving to a Continuous Learning plan can’t begin to replicate our state’s education structure as we know it, but it can help ensure strategies that will provide a bridge back to the world-class learning our students benefit from today.

Essential staff members – as determined by local district officials – may be needed through Friday, March 20, to assess and prepare for facility maintenance. While schools are closed, administrative offices and support facilities may remain open as needed.

Once buildings are thoroughly sanitized, they will be able to reopen for small groups of school personnel to implement a plan for Continuous Learning.

We realize this is a difficult time, but Kansans always have persevered — and we will continue to do so. We will work together to get through this, and we will overcome this challenge and emerge stronger.”

Additionally, effective Monday, March 23, Kelly directed state employees to stay home on administrative leave to minimize additional risk of exposure to the virus for two weeks. The break will allow agencies to assess their essential functions to ensure that they can safely continue to serve the core needs of Kansans. This directive only applies to executive branch agencies under jurisdiction of the governor. This does not include agencies such as the Office of the Attorney General, the Insurance Department the State Treasurer or the Secretary of State’s office. Additionally, the order does not apply to legislative or judicial branch employees. Those branches will issue their own, separate, guidance to employees.

Kelly has directed Cabinet agencies, boards and commissions to develop an internal plan that will ensure a seamless transition. They will each identify which employees can work remotely, which will need to be placed on administrative leave, and how to best ramp operations back up at the appropriate time.

“The steps we are announcing today will create the space we need at the state level to develop a more strategic, resilient infrastructure so that we can get ahead of this threat and limit its long-term impact to Kansans,” Kelly said.


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Brown County couple self-quarantines after trip to Europe

It was Day 3 in the camper and already isolation was business as usual for Jason and Nancy Dvorak.

Well sort of. This was Wednesday of this week.

The Dvoraks just returned from a work trip/vacation to Europe and in light of the state of emergency concerning the COVID-19 coronavirus, they have decided to self-quarantine in their camper at their rural Brown County home. In keeping with “social distancing” and quarantining guidelines, the Dvoraks agreed to a phone interview with the Hiawatha World from their camper.

The Dvoraks flew to France Feb. 29, arriving March 1 in Toulouse, where Jason had a week of work meetings with other colleagues from Winfield United, a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes. Nancy joined other wives who traveled to France as well and while their husbands were in meetings with clients from France, they were sight-seeing and enjoying the trip.

“Since we were on that side of the pond, we decided to stay an extra week and visit some areas where my ancestors came from,” Jason said.

The entire time they were in France, Jason and Nancy said they knew that the coronavirus was an issue, but it wasn’t to the magnitude that it is now.

“They were already practicing social distancing in France at work places,” he said.

“Over there they kiss on the cheek and they weren’t doing that,” Nancy added. “But otherwise, there were plenty of people walking around just doing their thing.”

She said they noticed a few people of Asian descent were wearing masks in public, but other than that there weren’t any issues they noticed – at least at the beginning of their trip.

So after several days of meetings and sight-seeing in Toulouse, France, the Dvoraks hopped a train to Montpelier, France along the French Riveria — a metropolitan area in the Mediterranean, which was very busy with tourists. Again, there wasn’t much news of the coronavirus. They took another train to an airport and flew to Prague, Czech Republic, where they hoped to find more about Jason’s roots.

Back in December, Jason’s father died and he began searching through the family tree. He traced his roots back to his second great-grandparents and a third great-grandmother, all three who came to the United States as immigrants in 1878 and settled in Nebraska, then to south-central Kansas near Marion, which is where Jason is from. Jason’s grandfather died in a farming accident before he was born, so he didn’t have the opportunity to ask him about the family. It was information on those great-grandparents that led Jason to begin an ancestry search and he was able to find their home on the internet, located near Prague.

So he and Nancy arrived in Prague early the week of March 9. They had fun learning about what possibly could be extended family members and ancestors by searching through cemeteries. In fact, they came upon two memorials for Antonin Dvorak and Dr. Jan Dvorak in a church cemetery.

Nancy said Antonin Dvorak was a musician and much of his music centralized around the land and small farmers.

“That’s what Jason does, so it was neat to find this connection,” she said, noting they are still working to connect to them through the family tree.

The name Dvorak was actually Anglicized in the immigration, and in old Czech spelling read as “Dvorka.” In addition, his grandfather’s middle name was “Wenceslas,” which was pronounced as “Venslav.”

Upon arrival, they found Wenceslas Square in the center of Prague – named after Duke Wenceslas, King of Bohemia and a patron saint who was killed by his younger brother at the age of 22 in 929.

Jason said he was intrigued by the connection in names, and so he is continuing to research back prior to his second-great grandparents.

“I have 900 years to make up,” he said.

The Dvoraks were set to locate his ancestors’ home southeast of Prague, but by then word of concern of travel and safety due to the coronavirus had set in. By Wednesday, March 11, President Trump had announced a travel ban from Europe.

Panic set in across the nation. The Dvoraks said they wouldn’t have really known about the concern if it weren’t for the onslaught of news on social media and other news media sources. He said not all of it was accurate. They were being contacted from friends and family back home, concerned they weren’t going to make it back into the country.

Jason said there was so much misinformation, that they set about finding out the real story. Nancy has a family friend who is a US congressman from Missouri so they text him. He told them not to panic, that U.S. citizens are still allowed to travel home, but the situation was changing rapidly and to probably get home soon. The Dvoraks were set to come home Saturday the 14th anyway, but begin checking into getting their flights changed. Already, price gouging had set in and they were going to be charged up to $3,400 if they changed tickets to leave a couple days early.

“We at first panicked a little, but then were like calm down and let God handle it,” he said.

By Friday, they had their flights confirmed and were set to leave, then heard their flights were canceled. They were able to get another flight, this one to the United Kingdom, which was considered a safe zone. From there, they initially were to fly back to Philadelphia, but were routed to Chicago. There, they were met by the Center for Disease Control and asked a few questions about where they had been, had they traveled to Iran or China, did they have any coronavirus symptoms and their temperature was checked. They passed inspection and were given the go ahead to for their connecting flight back home. And as they traveled, they read about guidelines and recommendations for people who have left the country.

So, upon arriving home, they decided to protect their family, friends and community by self-quarantining. It’s certainly not convenient and they miss everyone, but are taking it a day at a time.

Since Jason does much of his work from home, he is still able to do this from the camper and Nancy has been busy finalizing illustrations for a children’s book she is writing.

Although they are “roughing it” so-to-speak, Nancy and Jason do have a roof over their heads, a bed, food, and each other — but no running water in the camper. Jason said that with temperatures expected to dip below freezing this coming weekend he didn’t want to take a chance in un-winterizing the camper.

He said his daughter, Jocelyn, is bringing them meals and setting it on the camper steps, then running “like a maniac” back to the house.

“Problem is, she didn’t make sure the dog didn’t get our breakfast before she ran off,” he said with a chuckle.

Jocelyn, a junior at Hiawatha High School, is the only one of the Dvorak’s five children still at the house. Jason said the rest went to stay with Grandma in Missouri. Jocelyn stayed behind with her other grandma, Betty Dvorak, to take care of the livestock and pets while the Dvorak parents traveled to Europe. She didn’t plan to be taking care of their parents for another two weeks after their return home.

Jason said he called the bank to authorize them giving his daughter cash and a lady from church picked up Jocelyn to take her to town and get her parents supplies for the camper – including six big jugs of water.

“I couldn’t give her my debit card, for fear of any contamination,” he said.

Not seeing their children is the hardest part of the quarantine, but Jason and Nancy said they wanted to do what’s best and protect them and other people they would come in contact with from any germs that may have traveled home with them.

Jason said it’s also been frustrating to hear of others who also traveled out of the country not adhering to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s advice on self-quarantining.

The Dvoraks have until March 29 before they can rejoin their children and society in Brown County. By then, it will have been four weeks since they have had any contact with their children or anyone else local.

“I miss my kiddos,” Nancy said.

But just like the feelings they had when the news of the pandemic and travel bans came to them in Europe, the Dvoraks are trying to give their concerns over to God and taking their isolation one day at a time.

“There are entire countries that live in much worse conditions,” she said. “It’s like Andy Stanley (Christian author and minister) said, these are ‘rich people’s problems.’ We will get through this.”

And, just maybe, we will all come out stronger for living through it.


News
Coronavirus response discussed at commission meeting

At the Monday evening meeting of the Hiawatha City Commission, the group discussed the city’s press release regarding the COVID-19 virus, and how the city will respond to the progression of the pandemic.

Along with City Hall encouraging business to be completed by phone or online, City Administrator Mike Nichols noted that the Police and Fire Departments would, for the most part, continue to operate as normal.

There was some discussion of the Fisher Center’s closure in the press release, with Commissioner Becky Shamburg expressing the opinion that setting a date was a dubious option, and the group eventually deciding that the recreation center would be closed to the public until further notice.

Shamburg cited the rapidly-changing guidelines and suggestions from state and national officials regarding the prevention of the disease. Shamburg stated that despite commission meetings planned for the next two weeks, eliminating the need to return to the subject again and again would be wise.

Nichols also informed the commission of options going forward for their meetings. Nichols stated that one option would be to move to a bigger space to allow social distancing of six feet between those present. The other option discussed was holding meetings via telephone or video chat, or potentially by broadcast. The one stipulation, noted Nichols, is that the public must retain the ability to observe and respond. Shamburg requested that options for holding the meetings by phone be put together as soon as possible.

Also discussed was employee sick leave. Nichols informed the commission that the option was available to make the city’s sick leave bank available to City employees who have used up their personal leave time if showing symptoms of the Coronavirus. The Commission did not take a vote on the matter, choosing to assess the situation and re-address the issue at a later date.


News
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Hiawatha city closes City Hall, other facilities

Given the constantly-changing nature of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency, there is a nonstop amount of information to consider. As such, the following are changes to City operations until further notice, as well as information to assist you with these changes. All is done in an effort to minimize contact and promote social distancing. We apologize for any inconvenience but, truly feel it is in the best interest of Hiawatha and our surrounding communities.

1. Effective immediately, City Hall and all other facilities are closed to public access with the exception of the Law Enforcement Center (please see item 5 below). All permits, applications and any other form normally obtained by coming into City Hall can be found on the City’s website www.cityofhiawatha.org. If you are unable to locate what you’re looking for on our website, please call (785) 742-7417. We will still be working. We will post instructions on the doors of both entrances to City Hall for things that frequently bring people to City Hall.

2. Utility bills may be paid in multiple ways; by placing your payment in the drop box located in the Oregon Street entrance to City Hall, they can be mailed, paid online or you can sign up for automatic withdrawal.

3. Bruning Park and Noble Park are closed. This includes all softball, baseball and soccer fields. If you choose to go to some of the other parks in the City, please be mindful of the social distancing recommendations from the CDC and KDHE (at least six feet of separation).

4. As you may be aware, Governor Kelly has issued an executive order prohibiting Mass Gatherings consisting of 50 or more people. Restaurants and Bars are not being forced to close but, they will be restricted to having no more than 49 people in the establishment at any given time. Additionally they must preserve the social distancing of six feet between tables, booths, bar stools and at ordering counters, as well as cease self-service of unpackaged foods, such as but not limited to salad bars and buffets.

5. Please contact the Hiawatha Police Department by phone for any non-urgent reporting or questions. If it is necessary to meet with an officer to complete your report, we will make the necessary arrangements. Do not come to the Hiawatha Law Enforcement Center in person unless it is necessary. Vehicle Inspections will be done by Appointment Only for City of Hiawatha residents. Please call (785) 742-2156 and we will assign an officer to meet with you. As always, if you have an emergency call 911 for assistance.

The following is a list of phone numbers for City departments:

City Hall, Code Enforcement, Fire (non-emergency) (785) 742-7417

Police (non-emergency) (785) 742-2156

Parks & Recreation (785) 742-7176

Streets, Water & Lights (785) 742-7850

Sewer (785) 742-3196

As we’ve said before, it is important for all of us to make informed decisions to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our community. Please consult the CDC and KDHE’s websites for up-to-date information. These decisions are not being taken lightly. Thank you for your understanding and support. We will continue to evaluate as the situation with COVID-19 further evolves nationally, regionally and locally. Below are links to resources for information related to COVID-19 and steps from the CDC and KDHE to help prevent illness.

Resources

Reliable, updated information on COVID-19 can be found on these websites:

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

KDHE: http://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/index.htm


News
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Hiawatha school officials working on comprehensive education plan to finish semester

Hiawatha school officials are working to address the needs of the district’s students in the coming days in light of Gov. Laura Kelly’s announcement that she was mandating the closure of all school buildings in the state to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Kelly made her announcement late Tuesday in a special live press conference. She said the closure is for the remainder of the current academic year. This came after an initial recommendation on Saturday to close for this coming week. She said the state is working to help districts implement alternative ways of educating students for the remainder of the school year.

A special state task force with the Kansas Department of Education has been working around the clock this week to put together a comprehensive education plan for the remainder of the school year. That plan was hopefully to be introduced to districts in a special press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday morning by Dr. Randy Watson with the KSDE.

Lonnie Moser, Hiawatha superintendent of schools, has been corresponding with district staff, students and patrons everyday with Facebook posts, videos and texts to try to keep them updated with what’s happening in the district. Hiawatha has not been in session since March 5, as March 6-13 was spring break. This week, school was closed based on the state’s recommendation to suspend classroom instruction for at least the week.

The first day – Monday – was spent connecting with parents and students who had traveled out of the area, to determine whether there were any concerns for quarantine.

Moser said, in anticipation of public schools following the trend set by colleges closing nationwide, they immediately began working on ways to anticipate the needs of students and staff so that instruction and learning could occur.

“It’s hard to plan for something that you don’t know what will look like yet,” he said. “We hope to mobilize on Thursday, based on state recommendation.”

The state released it’s comprehensive plan for education to the districts Thursday morning and Moser said he and district administrators were busy all that day determining the best course to proceed in implementing the guidelines. He said each district is allowed to approve it’s own comprehensive learning plan and that will be approved by the School Board in the coming days.

Moser said the district officials understand the hardship a school closure places on families, as well as the social and emotional impact it may have on the students.

“We’re going to ask partner with us,” he said. “There is no way we are going to be able to replicate the education they receive in the classroom, we are just trying to mitigate through these circumstances.”

Moser anticipated a blend of electronic education, mixed with packets sent home – depending upon the age of the student. Moser said that high school students are already on the Google classroom, so continuing their education via that medium is still highly likely. For younger students – especially elementary – their education could be provided through weekly packets sent home. Questions over internet access is a concern for some families, but they are working to find answers.

“We are also working on other critical issues, such as what this means for our seniors and how this will affect next school year,” he said. “We will provide updates on these as soon as the information is available.”

Moser anticipated instruction to begin March 30 in the district. In the meantime, district teachers will be allowed back in the classrooms next week, but that is being scheduled to adhere to guidelines of 10 or less people within a work space.

“Please know that instruction will look very different across curricula and grade levels,” he said. “Your child’s school will provide more details in the next week.”

Moser said in light of the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s announcement Wednesday that all spring championships, competitions and festivals are canceled for the remainder of this school year, many USD 415 events have also been or will be canceled.

“This is simply unavoidable,” he said. “A noteworthy cancellation we can release is the Hiawatha High School Prom, scheduled for April 18, has been canceled. We understand the disappointment this causes and truly regret the situation. We have not, as of yet, made any decision regarding graduation.”

Moser said he is very proud of the way the USD 415 staff is embracing the situation.

“They too, are very saddened but are firm in their resolve,” he said. They’ve offered their eagerness to move forward and do all they can in order to do their best for our children. They have chosen to see the opportunities that lie within this crisis.”

Moser said communication will remain a top priority and parents should be hearing from their respective schools within the next week as the district moves forward.

In other logistics related to the closure, Moser said non-classified staff – which includes administration and teachers – will continue to be paid, the same as if there were snow days. Classified – or hourly staff – were paid for this week and some have been working in the offices and for custodial and maintenance duties. Moser didn’t know what next week would bring, however he noted that teachers will be mobilized for the continuing education – in a much different manner, but their services will still be needed.

He, along with other districts, were waiting from direction on the state concerning continued salaries, although in the governor’s speech she mandated that all school personnel would still be paid.

Becky Shamburg, director of the Brown County Special Education Interlocal 615 — which provides services in for Hiawatha and South Brown County students — is also waiting on direction from the state as to how education for students with IEPs will happen.

“I need the direction from them, before I can make any plans to move forward,” Shamburg said. “It’s a special challenge to provide services for our kids, but we want them to know they won’t be forgotten.”

Shamburg said education will be there, but until the society truly gets a handle on the health aspects of the COVID-19 emergency, health and safety is of utmost importance for her students and staff.

“We are hoping to get direction from our legislature and state by the end of the week,” she said. “This is a very unusual situation and we don’t want to rush into anything.”

Food Program Details:

The district has implemented a food service program for all persons age 1-18 years of age, available Monday through Friday. Children have to be present to pick up the meal, keeping in line with state guidelines.

Starting Thursday, March 19 until May 20 a school meal program will be available to any person age 1 to 18 years of age Monday-Friday.

Students must pick up the meals from a designated location. This will be distributed in a “drive-through” fashion. One lunch and one breakfast will be provided per visible student.

Children must be present for meals to be received.

Times: 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Locations:

Hiawatha Elementary School pick-up/drop off lane – 600 Miami

Old Legion Hall – 212 Main Street, Robinson

When picking up meals you will be notified of which items are perishable at room temperature.

These items will need to be consumed, refrigerated, or thrown away within one hour of pickup for safety purposes.

Moser said the district is looking at adding additional distribution sites and encouraged all parents to check their emails for information and a parent survey so district officials can determine the needs of each student and family. In addition, they are trying to gather information on how many children will be utilizing the meal service in order to provide enough.

Watch the district’s Facebook daily for updates, check your emails or reach out to your building principal and district office with questions.


News
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KDHE confirms 44 cases in Kansas as of Friday afternoon

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced Thursday afternoon that there are now 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas, including one death.

In a news release from KDHE, the department said it continues to closely monitor an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The outbreak first started in Wuhan, China, but cases have been identified around the world, including in the United States.

The first case in the U.S. was announced Jan. 21.

In Kansas, KDHE announced there were several new positive cases today. Residents of other states tested in Kansas are counted in their residential state’s numbers by the CDC and are not included in Kansas numbers. Those are one positive from Oregon and one from Missouri, testing positive in Ford and Miami counties.

According to test results updated at 10 a.m. Thursday, there have been 34 positive, including one death. In a break down per county, Johnson County has 23 confirmed cases, Wyandotte County 9, Butler, Leavenworth and Morris counties 2 each, Cherokee, Douglas, Franklin, Jackson, Linn and Sedgwick counties one each.

In KDHE’s response, on March 18, new guidance on quarantine recommendations for those who have traveled is available on the website at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus.

In addition, KDHE has created a toolkit of Kansas-specific guidance to help local public health departments engage with their community partners on COVID-19 planning at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus. New information is added daily.

KDHE has staff monitoring phones 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at 1-866-534-3463 and an email for general inquiries at COVID-10@KS.gov. Please note contact numbers are for general questions and cannot provide anyone with medical evaluations.

Anyone who is feeling ill is advised to please stay home and call a healthcare provider.


Schools
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KSHSAA cancels all spring competitions in response to Gov. Kelly's order for closure of schools

The Kansas High School Activities Association announced Wednesday afternoon it was cancelling all spring championships, competitions and festivals for the remainder of the school year.

This is in response to Gov. Laura Kelly’s Executive Order regarding the closure and cessation of in-person instruction in all Kansas schools through May 29.

According to a statement issued by KSHSAA late Wednesday afternoon:

“The KSHSAA recognizes the value of school activities for all students and school communities, but the current situation does not permit the opportunity for school activities to take place in a manner that is consistent with the very reason school activities exist.As a commitment to the health of Kansas students and communities, the best decision and only reasonable response is to cancel the regular season and post-season spring activity season. We all have an important responsibility to minimize community transmission as we embrace suggested precautions regarding COVID-19. As educators, the primary focus for our students and families is the health and well-being of each student. This action by the KSHSAA supports that effort across Kansas.The KSHSAA strongly discourages non-school activity participation at this timein an effort to mitigate the community transmission of the coronavirus. All CDC, KDHE and KSDE recommendations for preventing disease transmission should be followed at this time for any non-school activity in which a student participates.”

The following links provide access to those resources:

CDC:https://www.cdc.gov/

KDHE:http://www.kdheks.gov/

KSDE: https://www.ksde.org/