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Hiawatha Chamber sponsoring 'Social Distancing' scavenger hunt

What’s better than a scavenger hunt while practicing “social distancing?”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and concern about crowds and social gatherings, several state mandates have been issued that not only closed school buildings, but limited groups of more than 10 to gather.

So many people are staying at home and only going out for essential needs. Well the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau has come up with a “social distancing” activity that you can do from your car! And possibly earn some Chamber Bucks to help out local businesses that are members of the HCVB.

“We need some good cheer while social distancing! Let’s go on a social distancing scavenger hunt!” according to the HCVB about its scavenger hunt that kicked off Tuesday.

President Katie Miller said that starting Tuesday, people and business are encouraged to put teddy bears in their windows — and even share the address as well so hunters can find them. The hunters can take selfies or photos of each and post them on the HCVB Facebook site.

Miller said that each week, the HCVB will draw a name and give away Chamber Bucks, donated by Stacie’s Dance Academy.

Each week will have a different them, so participants can switch out the items based on the following schedule:

March 24-27th: Teddy Bears

March 29-April 4: Flowers

April 5-11th: Rabbits

April 12-18th: Hearts

To participate, put the image or item of the week in a large street facing window or front door. Items should be large enough to be seen from the street. Participants can search for them while still practicing social distancing.

“Please remember to follow the CDC and Kansas State Health Department recommendation for social distancing! Have fun!”

While the HCVB office is closed, the Chamber is answering phones — 742-7136 — and emails — hiawathachamber@rainbowtel.net between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Or send a message via Facebook.


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Hiawatha school officials move forward on meeting state guidelines to finish academic year

The Hiawatha School Board met in a special noon meeting on Tuesday to take action on resolutions needed for the district to proceed with the remainder of the academic year.

The meeting was at the Hiawatha Middle School library, with each of the board members, Board Clerk Sarah Windmeyer, Superintendent Lonnie Moser and District Maintenance Coordinator Matt Cluck all sitting at individual tables. Board members in attendance were Ian Schuetz, Keith Erdley, Dr. Pete Rosa’, Tom Simmer and John Wright. Jeff Brockhoff was on speaker phone and Amy Kopp was not in attendance.

Ten people were allowed in the library and the meeting was televised in the commons area for additional attendees.

With the governor’s action last week to close public school buildings through May 29, Kansas schools have been left with guidance by the Department of Education on how to finish out the school year with some education through what’s been referred to as Continuous Learning Plan.

The state has waived the requirement for the 1,116 hours needed for a school year, but each district must meet two conditions: 1-to develop and implement a Continuous Learning Plan and 2-each district must pay all staff as though school were still in session.

The Hiawatha School Board took a step in this direction by approving two resolutions on Tuesday – the first regarding wage payment to all district employees as if they were reporting to work. Moser said that teachers will be working – in a much different environment, some from the school’s classrooms, but many from home, to implement the Continuous Learning Plan. Classified – or hourly staff – has been called in for various duties – such as sorting and boxing up student belongings, custodial/maintenance and office duties.

Moser said the teachers will continue their duties through the end of the semester and hourly employees could continue to be on call, depending upon the needs of the district.

The second resolution approved was to suspend the district graduation requirements. Moser advised the board that this doesn’t mean seniors won’t be held accountable for required core credits, but that the state is giving districts leeway to determine graduation and whether a student has completed credits on a case-by-case basis.

Also required by the state is the district to approve the Continuous Learning Plan. Moser advised the board that teachers have already been in contact with students and education will resume March 30, with board approval of the Continuous Learning Plan coming later in the week at a special 7 a.m. meeting on Thursday, April 2.

Moser updated the board members on goings on within the district the past week or more. He said he has tried to keep in contact with patrons, parents and students with daily news sent via text and posted on the district’s Facebook site. In addition, he has provided daily videos to staff members to try and keep the lines of communication open. Moser credited the staff for stepping up to the plate and being resilient in these unknown times. He said many had launched into the Continuous Learning Programs early – reaching out to students and parents and trying to remain positive. He said he also noticed many reaching out on social media and noted there was a parade Sunday with teachers, parents and some students as vehicles circulated through the community to honk and wave at students and parents at home.

After nearly two weeks of extensive sanitizing by custodians, teachers were allowed back in the buildings on Monday to sort through student belongings and prepare them for pick-up. In addition, student iPads and Chromebooks were sent home to each to be used for the Continuous Learning Plan. Moser said those were checked out to each parent and if a parent for some reason refused it, then they weren’t sent home.

Moser said these are challenging times. Based on a survey of parents, the school officials better know the individual needs of families. Some don’t have access to internet and with the public library closed that leads to issues. However, he said the district has been working closely with Rainbow Communications and the company just announced more than 30 free hotspots in the local communities – including two in Hiawatha, along with others throughout the county. He said people will have to stay in their vehicles at the locations to access the hotspots, but said they could be used for sending emails and returning and downloading homework.

Throughout the week, school staff continued to sort through student belongings and those were sent home through a drive-thru pickup at each facility based on alphabetical order.

Board President Ian Schuetz credited Moser, administrators, teachers and staff for responding well in a volatile situation. He said he knew Moser was putting in long days and nights on the job and felt his leadership and daily updates provided an anchor point for what’s going on.

“People need to realize the burden on teachers it is to recreate learning in this short of a time,” Schuetz said.

Moser added that he appreciated everyone’s flexibility, and knows there are a lot of questions. He advised parents to address each of their respective building principals for information, or go to the district’s Facebook site, where updates are posted daily.

In other business:

• The board approved the hiring of Mikaela Lehew as third grade teacher and Carl Parman for high school physical education.

• Board members completed a facility tour following the meeting and reviewed a proposed three-year Capital Improvements Plan.


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Sheriff's Office offers delivery of groceries, supplies to eldery and at-risk

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office is reaching out to the community to help keep high-risk patients safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

Brown County Sheriff John Merchant has announced his deputies will offer a delivery service of necessary items to elderly, those with a disability or is in a high-risk category to contract the coronavirus.

“I just felt we needed to make sure we have steps in place to take care of those who aren’t able to take care of themselves,” Sheriff Merchant said.

Deputies will deliver medicine or groceries. All they need is your name, birthday and an address for where your items need to be picked up from.

Sheriff Merchant said the items have to be retrieved from Brown County businesses and be delivered within Brown County.

“I am asking that you only use this program if you truly have a need as our resources could be limited,” he said. “A big thank you to everyone who has been selflessly helping others, by working together we will get through this. Please call if you have any questions.”

Call (785) 742-7125 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday.


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Hiawatha man leads local authorities on chase

A 37-year-old Hiawatha man was arrested after he led police on a 30-mile chase in a stolen vehicle on Wednesday.

According to a news release from Brown County Sheriff John Merchant, at approximately 1:45 p.m., Brown County dispatch received a stolen vehicle report from the eastern portion of the county.

“It was reported that a male individual is the one who had stolen the 2000 white Ford pickup,” Sheriff Merchant said. “A short time later, we received information from our former Chaplain, who kept the vehicle in sight giving us directions until a deputy could intercept the vehicle.”

Sheriff Merchant said when the deputy located the stolen vehicle, a chase ensued which went through Willis, US 73 north to US 36 Highway eastbound, then the vehicle left the roadway turned around and drove west on US 36 Highway. The vehicle then struck a bridge abutment causing the driver to lose control and end in the ditch north of the highway just east of the Mulberry exit.

Brown County Deputies arrested Brandon Sweet, 37, of Hiawatha on charges of Felony Theft, Aggravated Assault X 3, Felony counts of Avoiding Spikes X 3 , Driving While Suspended Canceled or Revoked, and No Seat belt. Possible other charges are pending.

Sheriff Merchant wanted to issue a thanks to Town and County Ambulance, Kansas Highway Patrol, Kickapoo PD, Sac and Fox PD, Hiawatha PD, Nemaha County and the former Chaplain at the Sheriff’s Office.


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Stepping up and reaching out

In a time of uncertainty, concern for safety and worry about the future, many local people, businesses and organizations are stepping up and reaching out to the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has many people in a panic. As of Wednesday morning, Brown County had NOT been placed on a “shelter in place” – or a stay at home mandate, but neighboring counties such as Doniphan and Atchison were given those orders earlier this week.

Just on Tuesday, a positive case in Doniphan County was announced by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. St. Joseph, Mo. – the closest urban city to Hiawatha – was also placed on a “shelter in place” order to begin Tuesday of this week. Everywhere you turn, authorities are warning to “stay at home” in order to beat the spread of the virus – but only go out for essentials.

Kansas schools were shut down last week by Governor Laura Kelly – at least for in-class learning. Instruction will continue for the 2019-2020 academic year, but as Hiawatha Superintendent Lonnie Moser said, it will look much different than what everyone is used to.

The school year ended with a bang. Teachers and students couldn’t say good-bye to each other or friends. Seniors suddenly were finished with all social interaction that comes with the end of their high school career. Prom has been canceled, but no decision has been made locally on graduation.

While schools are working hard to put in place a Continuous Learning program, teachers are trying to reach out to their students and parents via electronic methods as they prepare for the Continuous Learning program.

However, on Sunday, some teachers – along with parents – decided to reach out in a different way – with an impromptu parade. Word spread of the parade via social media and word of mouth and soon there were more than 50 cars parading through neighborhoods in Hiawatha as teachers, students and parents waved to each other from their cars and houses – keeping good on the “social distancing” mandates.

In the business and organization world, many people have taken to the Internet – where county commission meetings and church services can be found on Facebook Live and Zoom, conference calls are now the norm and phone calls are preferred rather than face-to-face meetings. Many businesses have closed doors to the public, but are still scrambling to run normally behind the scenes via technology from the work place, or remotely from homes.

Social distancing and concern over the spread of the virus has taken its toll on local small businesses, many of which are facing economic hardship over a loss of business walking through what is now a locked door. Many restaurants have offered take-out and delivery services only, while just a couple had retained dining hours for now. Others have closed completely until the emergency concern is passed. Downtown Hiawatha pharmacies – Tice Healthmart and Kex RX – each offer very essential services and have decided to remain open, but with doors locked. There are signs that direct customers to call ahead, or call from the sidewalk if they have use of a cell phone. An employee will ask what the customer needs, what type of payment is being used, and a transaction will happen at the door or on the sidewalk.

Our lives have very much turned into a bizarre world that none would have ever suspected would happen – but most are making adjustments to survive.

Several local people have made efforts to step up and help the community and businesses in various ways. The Brown County Sheriff’s Office has announced its deputies would be delivering essential items such as groceries and medicines to elderly and at-risk members in the community. Just call 742-7125.

Weather Tech Renovations of Hiawatha and BBCC properties have teamed up to put together care packages for elderly in the community and have delivered more than 70 so far.

Heath and Stacy Simmer of Hiawatha donated free meals from First Street Bar and Grill to the first 100 people on March 21. In a Facebook post, Heath Simmer said this serves three needs.

“Feed the community, help a local business owner and provide an income for people who work there,” he said.

While New China Restaurant has closed its doors during the emergency time, owner Lingling Zhang announced she was donating meals last Sunday to the first 150 people who called in.

Dentist Dr. Jordan Haedt, DDS, teamed up with Jr’s Place – a children’s store in downtown Hiawatha – to offer “sanity packs” to 10 families in Hiawatha.

“Although there is stress that comes with this situation, we are determined to remain positive and spread good in the world,” Dr. Haedt stated on her business Facebook page. “One of the greatest blessings that is occurring during this time is the opportunity to spend more time with our families and reflect on the things that matter most in life.”

Dr. Haedt said that with “social distancing” and a lot of families looking for new activities to do together, she and her husband, Nick, wanted to support a local business. The first 10 people to message the business page won a “sanity pack” and could message Jr’s Place with requests and the owners would deliver right to the front door of the winners.

The Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau is teaming up with Stacie’s Dance Academy of Hiawatha to give away $1,000 in Chamber Bucks – money to be spent specifically at businesses that are a member of the Chamber. The Chamber Bucks — donated by owners Stacie and Frank Newell — will be awarded through the HCVB’s “Social Distancing” Scavenger Hunt. Local residents can participate by placing the specific item – whether a bear, a heart or other items – in their window facing the street. People can drive by and spot the items in a scavenger hunt around town! For details on this, check out the story in Friday’s paper or go to the HCVB Facebook sites for details on how you can participate.

These are just a few of the ways that local people have stepped up and reached out to the community. Residents are encouraged to do their part to help and the community of Hiawatha will get through this together.

If anyone has a story to share about how a person or a group has gone above and beyond during this time, you can email it to joeymay@npgco.com.


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City issues guidance on water bills; reminds residents that city property is closed

This week, the City of Hiawatha released the following guidance about water bills, along with reminders that city property is closed to the public — including parks and playgrounds. In addition, city officials reminded there is not a way to sanitize playground equipment and that the virus can live on plastic and metal 2-3 days after contamination.

Water, Sewer & Storm Sewer Bills — Per Governor Kelly’s Executive Order 20-05, disconnecting water service for non-payment is prohibited and, as of now, will remain in effect until either the order is rescinded, the Emergency Declaration expires or, May 1, 2020, whichever comes first. Therefore, the City will not be disconnecting water service on March 23, 2020 for non-payment. As of this press release, late fees will still be assessed.

Parks & Playgrounds — Effective immediately, all City of Hiawatha owned parks, playgrounds — including the playground and shelter houses at the City Lake — are closed to the public. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE LAKE IS CLOSED — IT IS STILL OPEN, JUST NOT THE PLAY EQUIPMENT AND SHELTER HOUSES. While the city has stated it is not aware of a positive case of COVID-19 in the city as of the time of this press release, this is being done in an effort minimize the effects of COVID-19 in our community.

“We appreciate your understanding and support and have no doubt that by working together, we can get through this challenging time. We will continue to evaluate as the situation with COVID-19 further evolves nationally, regionally and locally.”

Public access to all city owned facilities remains restricted.

Governor’s Executive Orders

Per Executive Order 20-14 issued by Governor Kelly, Effective at 12:01 P.M. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Mass Gatherings consisting of more than 10 people are prohibited. The entire document can be read at https://governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/EO-20-14-Executed.pdf

“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.”

If you have an emergency call 911 for assistance.

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

If you have an emergency call 911 for assistance. 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. We truly do appreciate 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