Keeping children fed a key issue with potential extended closures of KS schools

Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 6:45 PM CDT
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Schools are rushing to adapt to a changing landscape created by the novel coronavirus.

Most Kansas public schools are off this week following Governor Laura Kelly and Kansas Department of Education recommending districts close on Sunday.

This week, many schools were already scheduled off for spring break, including Wichita.

But the concern is empty school grounds could become the norm as COVID19 continues to spread.

The state's Department of Education is using this time off to work on contingency plans should schools be forced to close for an extended period.

"Look at what are we going to do educationally for our children for the rest of the year, whether they’re in session or at home. What do we need? We still need kids to learn," said Kansas State Board of Education Chair Kathy Busch. "There’s basically nine weeks of school left, so what’s can we do to help provide some learning activities to our schools. Some school districts have the capability of online, but some don’t."

A task force with more than two dozen educators is developing the measures to guide schools through questions that might come up.

"There are certain accreditation requirements that the state board can waive," said Busch. "One of the things we will be looking at there is a certain number of hours that schools have to be in, and we will be looking at that, depending on how long we have to be out of school, do we provide waivers for the hours?"

In addition to planning for education, another concern is keeping kids fed.

"One of the other big things we’ve talked about is feeding children. The department’s been working really closely with the Department of Ag in Washington, DC, and is getting a lot of waivers so that school districts will be able to provide meals to children," said Busch. "As we know, a lot of those kids depend on those meals for food. School districts have been given the go-ahead to provide meals to students, so that’s really good news."

It would allow schools to offer similar food services to summer meal programs.

Others are seeing this as a chance to do something positive, in light of the overwhelming nature of COVID-19.

"I pull up my social media feeds, and it’s filled with negativity, fear, anxiety, denial. It’s really easy to get down, and I really wanted to change that tone and show some love," said Janelle King. The owner of Birney's Snack Shop in Wichita.

Janelle King said she saw a restaurant in Lawrence, KS offer a free sacked lunch to kids and families facing challenges as coronavirus continues to develop.

"The idea being a no questions asked, free sacked lunches for those who need it," King said.

The owner of

decided to make this available here in Wichita.

"The community response has been tremendous since I put this out. I think this almost serves a two-fold need of on one end of the spectrum, this is working to provide much-needed food," said King. "On the other end of the spectrum, where people during these times are really looking for opportunities of how they can help and contribute."

King hopes to be able to fill in a need that is expected to continue to grow.

"We’re just one more, and most of the programs in place, don’t provide for the adults. You’ve got now the students can’t go to school, got parents that then can’t go to work and trying to fill in, this is where the entire family can come and take care of everybody," said King.

Businesses and individuals have already been contributing to help King provide more meals in-store and working to provide an

to donate and expand what they can do.

"My hope is we’re encouraging those at high risk, 65 and older, to stay at home and we don’t want that to mean they go without, so checking on your neighbors and family members and take it to them, and everyone else in between," said King. "The hourly employees that don’t know if they’re going to have hours next week. How are they going to pay their bills?"

Even during this challenging time for businesses, King said they're working together to support each other.

"As a community, we’re all in this together, and what I’ve seen and touched me is the overwhelming community support, from individuals to businesses." King said," All the other local retailers, we’re not competing against each other, we’re all messaging with each other. How can we support one another?"

, which is closed because of the virus said they're turning focus in partnering with local groups to provide kids with lunch.

Hutchinson and Great Bend school districts, which closed this week following the recommendation, are providing lunches to their students.

An announcement of what's to come for school is expected in the days ahead.

Busch said, "There will be a decision middle of the week, don’t know if that will be Wednesday or Thursday about what we will do next week and into the future."

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