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School starting brings some normalcy for children

Under the cloud of a pandemic, students in the Manhattan-Ogden school district headed back to class Wednesday after more than five months away from school.

Teachers and staff members greeted students as they showed up by foot, bus, bike and car at schools. As they do every year, parents took photos and watched as their children headed in to start the school year, some of them appearing more nervous than their children.

After a two-week delay to the start of school, teachers and students at Amanda Arnold Elementary School were excited to get the year started.

“We are ready for kids,” said Kathy Stitt, principal. “We are ready to go. We’ve got everything in place and everybody’s excited.”

While there is nothing normal about physical distancing and wearing masks, getting back to a normal activity, like school, is good, said Eric Reid, assistant superintendent.

“I don’t think there is as much energy, but there is an excitement,” he said. “It’s just got a little different tint on it this year with COVID hanging over our heads, and I don’t think we can ignore that.”

Reid spent the first few hours of the day visiting seven of the district’s buildings. He said he expects bumps in the road, but from what he saw Wednesday morning, opening day went well.

“People are handling it very well,” he said. “The kids seem to really respond very well; the staff is responding exceptionally well. I’m really proud of everybody in their efforts so far.”

Schools were emptier than a typical first day of school with about 25% of USD 383 families choosing online-only learning for their students.

USD 383 also started the year under a “hybrid model,” which splits in-person students into two groups that alternate between in-person and online classes. This model calls for two days per week of in-person classes and three days of online learning.

Stitt said she expects a learning curve to get through the new lessons and new technology, but school officials are ready and the important things are still going normally.

“What’s the same is that we love our kids,” she said. “We are here to teach, and everybody’s happy to be back in school. We just need to get the year started. Kids need to be learning, and we’ve missed them so much.”

Among the teachers is Hannah May, who is in her first year teaching kindergarten at Amanda Arnold. She met her students during a drive-through event Tuesday. Like any first day of school, she planned to start the day by talking about expectations, which this year included the proper wearing of masks, hygiene practices and physical distancing.

She believes the children will do fine with those rules.

“From what I’ve seen from students and kids in the community, I feel like they’re doing a pretty good job with wearing the masks,” she said. “It might be harder for some more than others, but overall, I feel like students have done a really good job with understanding that and wearing their masks.”

Sixth-grader Nathan Dearmond, 11, is starting his last year in elementary school and said if given his choice, he wouldn’t wear a mask. However, he said he understands why he needs to, and it doesn’t bother him to have one on.

He is more concerned about getting back to school.

“I want to see my friends and my new teacher,” he said. “I like learning new things every day.”

While he waited outside of Amanda Arnold for the day to start, Grant Hakobyn stood to the side with his daughter Mary, 6, until it was time for her to go in. When that time came, he watched until the last moment.

“She was a little nervous,” he said.

He is split 50/50, he said, about how he feels about her going to school during a pandemic but with he and his wife working, it would be difficult to do remote learning full time.

“I think its good for her to start interacting with people,” he said. “Luckily, we don’t have any higher risk people in our family. So, I’m not too concerned.”

US Sen. Jerry Moran tours home of late disabled veteran

Christine Benne opened the doors of her Manhattan home Tuesday to U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.

Moran toured Christine’s home, remodeled for better accessibility for her late husband, Paul, a veteran. Paul, who was diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease called Multi Symptom Atrophy, Cerebellar Type-C, died in December.

President Donald Trump earlier this month signed legislation crafted by Moran into law. The bill, which increases Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) eligibility for blind and seriously injured veterans, is called the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019.

“It was nice to be able to honor Paul in naming the bill in recognition of his service,” Moran said. “In part in recognition of his family’s efforts to help him and other veterans.”

The bill will allow blind veterans to access the SAH program and increase the number of awarded grants from three to six per year for veterans. The legislation also increases the number of applications per year from 30 to 120.

“So this is a special story for the Bennes,” Moran said. “But there’s lot of families who never expected ... (to) end up in the circumstances because they served their country. And what you see is people, family in this case, who rally to make sure that the best of that circumstance came into their lives. And it’s a reminder for all of us, certainly a family responsibility, but an obligation we all have.”

Moran helped the Benne family secure funding for the renovations after Christine reached out to him for assistance, which led to the creation of the bill.

“The legislation is important, but the accomplishment is not the legislation, the accomplishment is Paul in the latter couple years of his life had a better life as a result of Christine’s efforts to make sure that he got what he was entitled to, what he deserved,” Moran said.

The goal for Moran is to help solve problems for veterans.

“My responsibility is to help every veteran and his or her family to have a better life, to give them greater opportunities that they’ve given me and my family,” Moran said.

Before the renovations, it was difficult for Paul to get around the house, which he originally designed, Christine said.

“For us to get inside and outside the house, it was really hard, and we had to come through the garage,” Christine said.

Renovations included the front door area, widening of hallways and doorways and creating a larger bathroom, shower and closet for Paul. The front door to the home originally had steps, so contractors made it flat, so Paul could get through the front door in his wheelchair.

“But his ability to move throughout the house he built, I think that gave him a lot of freedom,” she said. “... He didn’t feel stuck.”

Christine is moving to another home in Manhattan and just sold the home to a family with a disabled person.

“It is really nice that this house is going to someone who could use it,” Christine said. “And that’s what Paul would have wanted, more than anything, is that all this stuff that he was able to use, someone needs to use it.”

Riley County records 68 more COVID-19 cases since Monday; total at 674

Riley County on Wednesday saw its biggest increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with 68 new cases since Monday.

That is an increase of about 11% in total cases and 23% in active cases from Monday; the total number since the outbreak began in March is 674. Of those, 290 are active, 379 have recovered and five people have died after testing positive for the virus, officials said.

The surge comes after thousands of K-State students have returned to town for in-person classes. The university started classes last week.

Officials said many of these new cases involve people aged 18-24 years old. In total, 410 or 60.83% of all cases involve that age range.

K-State announced Wednesday that the university had 63 virus cases during the first week of classes.

University officials said the number of cases are not indicative of all positive cases in people associated with K-State, rather they are the numbers from on-campus testing reported by Lafene Health Center on the Manhattan campus.

There is one positive patient receiving care at Ascension Via Christi hospital in Manhattan, officials said.

There are 178 pending tests and 6,378 negative tests so far from Riley County, officials said. In the breakdown of the cases, 29.9 is the average age while 52.1% of the cases are males and 47.9% involve females.

Riley County and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports data Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

KDHE reported 39,937 cases, 2,226 hospitalizations and 437 deaths statewide Wednesday. That was up 1,536 cases, 43 hospitalizations and 11 deaths from Monday.

As of Wednesday, Geary County had 259 cases while Pottawatomie County had 140, according to KDHE. That was up two cases in Geary County and five cases in Pottawatomie County from Monday.

People can listen to the coronavirus update for Riley County on Facebook at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday.

K-State confirms 63 coronavirus cases during first week of classes

During the first week of school, K-State had 63 confirmed cases of the coronavirus at a 9.25% positive rate.

K-State released this information Wednesday as it launched its online COVID-19 dashboard to provide the number of tests and positive cases of the virus on campus.

Officials will update the data every Wednesday with the previous week’s numbers, according to a news release from the university. Information on the dashboard, at k-state.edu/covid-19/communities, will include testing data from Lafene Health Center, the number of students in quarantine and isolation and information on instructional modes.

For the week of Aug. 17 through 21, Lafene administered 678 tests with 63 positive results and 558 negatives. The cumulative numbers from March 17 through Aug. 21 show Lafene Health Center administered 2,332 tests. Of those, 183 or 7.85% were positive and 1,999 were negative.

There are 159 Manhattan students and one polytechnic student in quarantine on and off campus; 2 polytechnic and 49 Manhattan students are in isolation; and 20 of both have been cleared from quarantine and isolation.

The numbers on the dashboard are not indicative of all positive cases in people associated with K-State, rather they are the numbers from on-campus testing reported by Lafene Health Center on the Manhattan campus.

The data accounts for all tests performed at the center to students, including athletes, faculty and staff, the website stated. The figures from Lafene are included in the community-wide totals reported by the Riley County Health Department.

In an open letter, K-State President Richard B. Myers on Wednesday spoke of the dashboard as a means to keep the community abreast of the COVID data on campus. He also gave updates and clarifications to the campus safety measures.

The results of a survey reflected that students are in compliance while indoors but there appeared to be some confusion about the wearing of masks outside.

“Everyone — faculty, staff, students, contractors, vendors, and visitors — must wear face coverings over their mouths and noses in all indoor and outdoor spaces while you are on university property unless you are alone in your own private office or workspace or are alone outdoors,” he said in the letter.

To clarify guidance on acceptable face coverings and the use of face shields, the campus will use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of a “simple cloth face masks/coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19. Recommendations for fabric masks include two or more layers of densely woven fabric and appropriate fit, snug, but not too tight. The fabric should remain dry and the face mask should be replaced if it becomes wet.”