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Hiawatha students back in the classrooms Sept. 2

After much discussion that at times became a little heated, the Hiawatha School District voted 5-2 Tuesday night to get students back into the classroom on Wednesday, Sept. 2.

This is the second time the board has pushed back the start date. Earlier this month the board voted to move the start date back to Aug. 20 from the original date of Aug. 18.

However, several things happened after the early July board meeting — the governor mandated that schools not start until Sept. 8. In addition, the state school board declined to approve that mandate and the decisions fell back in the hands of the local school districts.

A few days later, school officials received a nearly 1,100 page document “Navigating 2020” detailing the proposed learning guidelines for the 2020-21 academic year. This included three phases of possible learning: Phase 1-on site; Phase 2-hybrid of on-site and remote; Phase 3-remote. School districts need to be ready to move into any of those phases at any point in time depending upon the health and wellness climate of their county pertaining to COVID-19 cases.

It’s the challenges of getting students back into the classrooms while preparing for the unknown that has led schools — like Hiawatha — to make decisions to move start dates. In addition, there is so much planning that goes into it — disinfecting, mask protocol, taking temperatures, social distancing in the classroom, playgrounds and on buses, additional staff to monitor students, along with working out plans for quarantining and how to handle positive cases of students and staff.

All of these topics and many others were discussed during Tuesday night’s special board meeting — held at the Hiawatha Middle School library and aired over Zoom. Some district patrons were not able to view the meeting, as the Zoom conference maxed out at 100 viewers. Concern over this was discussed in the meeting as well, however to allow for more viewers the meeting would have had to been stopped and rescheduled with a new Zoom meeting link sent out to the public. The board had also purchased additional microphones for the Zoom meetings to allow for viewers to hear audio better.

Board members had varying views on when to return to the classroom. Superintendent Lonnie Moser proposed following the governor’s guidance and starting Sept. 8 with kindergartners, fifth and ninth graders and remaining students in the classroom the following day.

Board member John Wright was vehemently opposed. He felt it was time to get the kids “off the couches and out from in front of the TV” and back in the classroom sooner rather than later and sort through issues as they arose. Wright said he thought that the district could adequately prepare within the next three weeks for the academic year as well as custodians sanitize buildings that essentially had been empty all year.

“It’s a virus, not cobwebs,” said Tom Simmer, president of the board, who also voted in favor of not starting until after Labor Day.

Board member Ian Schuetz was just as vehemently proposing a later start — stating if school administration and teachers asked for the additional time he felt they should give it to them.

“We want to put our best foot forward — once we go live we will have kids in the building,” Schuetz said, noting that he felt it was best to be completely prepared rather than try to fix something on the go.

Wright argued that the school board couldn’t keep waiting and waiting to get kids back in the classroom.

“We may as well wait until October then,” he said.

Moser said by starting the day after Labor Day that pushed the final days of school to the last week of May, so school would be still be completed before June. Moser also stated there were other things to consider besides just getting classrooms ready. He said supplies that were ordered in the spring still had not arrived and thermal cameras that were purchased to record temperatures — required twice a day of all staff and students — wouldn’t arrive until later in the third week of August. He also noted there were busing considerations as well — as social distancing is being required on buses with a recommendation of one student per seat and seats in between students when possible. He said two of the bus routes — to White Cloud and Robinson — were completely full and the district may have hire additional bus drivers to split those routes. Moser said additional custodial staff and a CNA will have to be hired to complete the requirements for health and wellness guidance as required by the state’s learning document. These additional positions and supplies will be reimbursed by CARES Act funds or SPARK funding for COVID-19 purposes.

Curriculum Director Jean Brintnall was at the meeting and when asked her opinion stated that she wanted this year to be great — and in order to do that then additional time to prepare would be appreciated. She said the curriculum planned for the academic year will be something that could be in use throughout all three phases and not just for the 2020-21 academic year, but 5-10 years in the future.

“The best you can give us is most appreciated and will be a better vehicle for it,” she said. “That extra time will not be wasted.”

Schuetz made a motion to start school Wednesday, Sept. 9 for kindergarten, fifth and ninth graders. Simmer seconded the motion, however it failed 5-2 with only Schuetz and Simmer voting for it and board members Jeff Brockhoff, Andrea Groth, Amy Kopp, Wright and Keith Erdley casting nay votes.

Kopp, along with Wright, pointed out that area schools were starting in the third and fourth weeks of August. Schuetz said he still felt it was too early and thought some of the schools who had not adjusted the starting time schedule were “exceptionally naive” to think they could prepare in that short of a time. Schuetz said that he felt the board should exercise it’s right to proceed with caution and start later rather than earlier.

“We’re compromising with no need to compromise,” he said. “It’s a good thing we are not bound by what other districts are doing. We’re not giving teachers and administration the time they have asked for.”

Wright said he had confidence in the school staff to hit the ground running and meet the challenges this coming school year will offer.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we can do this,” he said. “Everybody has to step up.”

Following further discussion, Erdley made a motion to start school Sept. 2 for kindergarten, fifth and ninth graders and the remaining students start Sept. 3; Kopp seconded the motion. It was passed 5-2 with Erdley, Kopp, Groth, Wright and Brockhoff voting for the motion and Schuetz and Simmer against it.

In other discussions, the board has not yet approved the learning document that board members and Moser reviewed and discussed during the meeting. Moser said further review will be given to the document before it comes before the board for approval. Guidance on social distancing in classrooms, buses and also wearing masks in situations when social distancing could not be maintained was discussed — but not voted on. Moser advised that the school district would work closely with the Multi-County Health Department to make decisions on the phases of learning and other health and wellness issues within the school facilities.

Board members admitted this was going to be a challenging year and as Simmer noted “could change again in two weeks.”

Moser said the learning plan was going to give the district the guidance to move forward with any of the learning phases if the local health department offered guidance to do so.

Also discussed was sports and co-curriculars. Based on the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s 5-4 decision Tuesday afternoon, fall sports would continue as scheduled. The board said that means that practices would begin Aug. 17 as scheduled, however they did not determine what those practices would look like at this time nor state if competitions would begin as scheduled.

There will be some adjustments to classes such as choir and band, where rooms are smaller and students will have to express air through singing and blowing into instruments. Classes may be moved outside if weather allows for social distancing and if weather does not permit then the students might go to studying music theory or other music-related material rather than performance.

In other business:

The board approved the 2020-21 budget for publication and set a budget hearing at the Aug. 10 meeting. The budget of $17,291,804 includes a decreased mill levy of 1.12 mills and an increase of $133 each student from the Base Student Aid Per Pupil state aid. Student aid is based on the number of enrolled students on the Sept. 20 count day and that proposed number is 963 for this year compared to 961 last year and 943 the year prior. Moser said he is not sure how the remote learning will play into this, but as long as students enroll in the district’s program — whether on-site or remote — they will be counted.


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County Commissioners award additional SPARK funding, issue reminder of deadline

Brown County Commissioners met Monday morning and awarded additional SPARK money from the COVID-19 relief fund.

In addition, requests for reimbursements due to expenses relating to COVID-19 need to be submitted to the county by July 31 with all payments issued by Aug. 15.

The SPARK Fund is designated federal money dispersed to each county. Brown County had $1.9 million available to use and it’s managed by a task committee that includes Brown County Emergency Management Coordinator Don Pounds.

Entities such as businesses, organizations, municipalities, schools and others can submit for reimbursement for COVID-19 related funds. At Monday’s meeting, the commission approved several disbursements: Brown County Treasurer — $1,177.36; City of Horton — $1,146.94; Brown County District Court — $179.97; Latchkey — $49.05. Some of the reimbursements covered the costs of sanitation supplies, sneeze guards, a thermal thermometer, disinfectant and other expenses approved by the committee.

All requests for reimbursements need submitted by July 31 for the SPARKS fund, with disbursements coming by Aug. 15.

The commission set a special meeting for 8 a.m. on Thursday Aug. 6 to discuss further requests and COVID related issues. Pounds said he was awaiting requests from local school districts as well. He said after all the initial requests were made, the committee would review those deemed lower priority to see if they met the requirements for reimbursements.

In other business:

Commissioner Dwight Kruse read a letter from concerned resident Dr. Eric McPeak, who expressed his disappointment that the county did not uphold the governor’s mandate of wearing masks. He felt the community needed to be wearing masks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It seems to me that each lawmaker keeps passing the buck and letting local communities decide,” Dr. McPeak said in his letter.

Dr. McPeak urged the commissioners to “make the tough calls” to keep Brown County case numbers low. He felt by the commissioners not abiding by the governor’s guidance, that passed obligation on to schools, businesses and the general public. He did not feel that by “recommending” the use of masks that has increased the usage of them.

Bob Sines told the commissioners that he and his son, Dan, have made signs for those who want to display them in their yards thanking first responders and those working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said this is just a reminder of “Community Unity.”

Brown County Appraiser, Steve Markham, introduced his new employee, Chrissy Torkelson. Markham presented paperwork from the State letting the commission know the appraiser’s office is in compliance.

Julie Liberty, Road and Bridge Secretary, updated the commission on her office. Liberty discussed the inventory list. She updated the commission on 320th and Kestrel.

Venice Sloan, Director, requested signatures on the Juvenile and Adult Budget carry over.

The commission spoke with Head Custodian, Dave Schuetz, regarding the sanitizing. Schuetz stated that he had spoken to Jim Hills about the windows in the courthouse. The commission requested Schuetz get more bids for the flooring in the basement.


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Sheriff recognized with KDOT award

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office was recognized by the Kansas Department of Transportation at Monday morning’s Brown County Commission meeting.

Bob Hamilton, law enforcement liaison for KDOT, presented Sheriff John Merchant with the AAA Kansas Community Traffic Safety Platinum Award for his department’s work in 2019.

Hamilton told the commissioners he works with AAA Kansas to identify deserving law enforcement agencies and encourage them to apply for AAA for consideration, based on their work. This award is provided by AAA Kansas to encourage communities to address local traffic safety issues in a coordinated and cost-effective way.

“As Brown County Commissioners I want to thank you for the support you provide the sheriff to make his department one of only 13 sheriff departments in Kansas to qualify for a 2019 AAA award,” Hamilton said. “Without your support the sheriff couldn’t do a good job keeping your community safe.”

Hamilton said Brown County is one of 13 sheriff’s offices in the state receiving this award and noted this is the sixth year that Brown County received the award and the third year for the “Platinum Award” — which is the highest level AAA bestows, for demonstrating superior, sustained efforts in addressing local traffic safety issues.

Sheriff John Merchant received the award and said he was very appreciative of the recognition and couldn’t do all of the programs without Hamilton and the support of KDOT.

The Sheriff’s Office was recognized for a variety of activities and programs, including:

Working with Hiawatha and Horton high schools in the SAFE seat belt usage program; along with other educational programs such as child passenger seat training, “teen lifesaver” and winter driving initiatives with the high schools and the AAA Driver Improvement classes.

Participating in an area Traffic Safety Committee

Having a policy requiring employee seat belt use

Taking part in national Night Out neighborhood events and Trick-or-Treat Safety night

Delivering rural Brown County safety alerts and messages to residents

Hosting a Babysitting Clinic, providing training and education on occupant protection and first aid

Delivering school bus evacuation training at Hiawatha schools

Providing Operation Lifesaver efforts to upgrade training on railroad crossing and enforcement

Holding a DEA drug takeback event

Holding Digital Citizenship event at Horton High School on proper use of cell phones and dangers of texting and driving.


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County prepares for primary, early voting numbers are up

The Brown County Clerk’s Office has seen several residents vote early for the upcoming Aug. 4 primary election.

Brown County Clerk Melissa Gormley told county commissioners at Monday’s meeting that she has seen an increase in numbers with 833 ballots already out as of that day, with 310 returned and 121 in person voting at the early voting locations — which do include the Brown County Courthouse.

Gormley also said her staff will implement extensive cleaning procedures for the voting polls that include cleaning handles and tables every two hours. The Secretary of State’s office provided pens that voters can take home once they use hem. She said her office also purchased additional gloves, masks and shields for the voting tables.

Gormley said it was a little harder to get volunteers to run the polls, due to concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. She said masks are recommended at the polls — but not required.

The following is information concerning the 2020 primary candidates and voting:

The county clerk’s offices reminds residents that all city positions are “nonpartisan” — the candidate does not declare a party affiliation. This year there were not more than three filing in the same party for any of the open positions and so those do not require a primary election. All 2020 city positions will be voted on in November in the general election.

All other positions such as township and county — if they have at least two in the same party that have filed — will be decided upon in the primary election, set for Aug. 4.

Voter registration deadline was July 14. Anyone can register vote, but those who are currently registered as a Democrat or Republican who would like to change parties won’t be able to do so until Sept. 1. Unaffiliated voters may affiliate up to and on Election Day and vote a regular ballot. First-time voters were able to register to vote until close of voter registration on July 14. After that date, any voter wanting to register for the first time or change their party affiliation from Democrat or Republican to Democrat or Republican must vote a provisional ballot.

Early voting began in July on specific dates at locations throughout the county and will continue daily at the Brown County Courthouse until the election. Voting in Hiawatha will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Fisher Center.

County and Judicial Filings (Primary and General)

District Judge District 22, Div 2 (four-year term): incumbent John Weingart (R) has refiled and is running unopposed.

District 2 Brown County Commission (four-year term): Lamar Shoemaker (R) has filed for the position currently held by Keith Olsen, who did not refile.

District 3 Brown County Commission (four-year term): Dwight A Kruse (R) has filed for re-election and is being challenged by William Pollock (R).

Brown County Clerk (four-year term): Dawn Boyles (R) has filed for the position currently held by Melissa Gormley, who initially filed for re-election, but withdrew. Boyles is running unopposed.

Brown County Treasurer (four-year term): Betty (BJ) Spiker (R) and Ann Olson (R) have filed for the position currently held by Cheryl Lippold, who did not file for re-election.

Brown County Register of Deeds (four-year term): Nellie Brockhoff (R) filed for re-election and is running unopposed.

Brown County Attorney (four-year term): Kevin Hill (R) has filed for re-election and is running unopposed.

Brown County Sheriff (four-year term): John D. Merchant Sr. (R) has filed for re-election and is being challenged by Dennis Entrikin (R).

Hiawatha City Filings (General Election)

Commissioner of police (four-year term): Dustin Williams has filed for re-election and is being challenged by L. Evans Woehlecke.

Commissioner of streets and parks (four-year term): Becky Shamburg has filed for re-election and is being challenged by Paul Mendez and Nicholas Blevins.

Commissioner of Utilities (four-year term): Toni J. Hull has filed for re-election and is being challenged by Brian Shefferd.

Other Filings

Fairview City Council: Mayor Art Vonderschmidt has filed for re-election and city council member Doug Bletscher has filed for re-election. The position of John Armstrong’s city council position is up for election, but no one has filed.

Irvin Township: Curtis Blevins (D) has filed for re-election as trustee. Also up for vote is the position of treasurer, currently held by JoLynn Siebenmorgen, who has not filed.

Padonia Township: Bradley Swearingen (R) has filed for re-election as trustee. Also up for election is the position of treasurer, currently held by Jeffrey Gormley, who has not filed for re-election.

Hamlin Township: Victor Menold (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and Joseph Noll (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Morrill Township: Ryan Menold (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and Brent Wikle (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Walnut Township: Zon Middendorf (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and Brett Trentman (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Hiawatha Township: David Pfister (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and is being challenged by Michael Patton (R) and John D. Merchant Jr. (R). Larry Weast has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Robinson Township: Allen Torkelson (R) has filed for re-election as trustee. Bryce Tryon (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Washington Township: Laurence Berger (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and Joe Bunck (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Mission Township: The position of trustee, currently held by Jerry Gifford, is up for election — Gifford did not refile. Rodney Rice (R) has filed for re-election as treasurer.

Powhattan Township: Frank Mueseler (R) has filed for re-election as trustee and Ronald Rettele has filed for re-election as treasurer.

There are also several precinct committee positions up for election.


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National Night Out canceled for 2020

Another cancellation of a favorite event for Hiawathans is being canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hiawatha Police Chief John Defore said this year’s National Night Out — set for Aug. 5 — is canceled due to the pandemic. This joins the list of local cancellations that include Maple Leaf Festival and Big Kansas Road Trip, along with Brown County Relay For Life — all which were set for this fall.

Chief Defore said the city decided to cancel the upcoming event after much discussion. In May, the city commission had also voted to close the pool and not allow games on city fields due to the pandemic. National Night Out typically includes a variety of events at the Fisher Community Center, which bring out hundreds of local people to see emergency vehicles, have a free meal and take part in an open pool party.

“National Night Out promotes community partnerships and city-wide camaraderie to make our city a safer, more caring places to live,” Chief Defore said. “With the uncertainty we are facing regarding with COVID-19 and precaution measures will look like throughout the remainder of the year and beyond, we feel cancellation is the best way to care for our community.”

Chief Defore said the department is planning to be back next year with another awesome National Night Out party, “after all this is our way of bring all of us together for food fun and fellowship.”

“Please stay safe and due your part to help stop the spread of this terrible virus,” he said.