By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—It’s led to the cancellation of public gatherings across the nation, from NBA and NCAA basketball games to Broadway performances.
Now precautions against spreading the coronavirus are being felt closer to home with the postponement of Halstead Middle School’s Genius Hour event scheduled for Friday morning.
The school district made the decision Thursday afternoon to postpone the event tentatively to March 27, or possibly even the week after. The event was an invitation to all middle-school parents to come check out the student-designed projects that kids have been working.
Superintendent Ron Barry stressed that the event wasn’t canceled, only postponed.
“We’re still going to do it, but let’s postpone it until after we have a better grasp and understanding of what’s going on with the virus,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Barry said no other school activities had been affected by the coronavirus. Games in the state basketball tournament were planned to continue as scheduled, at least for Thursday.
The coronavirus is now officially designated as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Barry said he’d been communicating with the state departments of health and of education over the past two or three weeks to stay informed on the coronavirus. He and other local superintendents also met with the Harvey County Health Department on Wednesday.
“They talked about making sure you think about a different variety of things within your plan of action, which was good to reflect on,” he said. “Some of those things we’d kind of already talked through, but there’s always an idea to improve it.”
The district has been taking actions like stocking up on anti-bacterial soap and plans to do a thorough disinfection of buildings during spring break.
“Every day the information changes a little bit, and you’re just trying to learn because it’s new,” he said. “I think for the most part we’ve done the things that we needed to stay ahead of it.”
On Thursday, three new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Johnson County, bringing the total in Kansas up to four.
In the event that cases start appearing closer to Harvey County, Barry said the school district’s plan would involve working closely with local health agencies, the state department of health, and the state department of education on whether to keep school in session, but that it would still be a localized decision.
“It would take us leaning on them to help justify that decision, because ultimately if there is a confirmed case, they’re the ones doing the investigation on that case,” Barry said. “They’ll have more information than we will about all that and the number and scope and reach, so we’ve got to lean on them to help understand ultimately what the best interest is for our students.”
He added that just because Johnson County has confirmed cases of coronavirus doesn’t mean Halstead-Bentley would be shutting down school.
Although USD 440 has had classes canceled for inclement weather five times this year, Barry said they still have some hours built into the calendar in the event that classes need to be canceled for coronavirus. His biggest concern was ensuring that seniors and preschoolers meet their required number of hours.
Barry encouraged students to continue taking preventative measures like regular hand-washing to combat the spread of the virus.