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USD 383 to allow parents to choose between in-person and online learning

The Manhattan-Ogden school district will allow families to choose between completely online learning and in-person learning for their children, superintendent Marvin Wade announced Tuesday.

“USD 383 recognizes the degree to which people are comfortable returning to school buildings is significantly influenced by the interaction of a number of factors: prevalence, severity and trend of COVID-19 within our region; extent of precautionary measures taken by the district; and the medical condition of students, families and staff,” Wade wrote in a letter to parents.

For that reason, Wade said the district will allow parents to either keep their children to strictly remote, online learning, or to opt for in-person, onsite learning, with the understanding that the pandemic could force the district to move to online learning for everyone. The remote learning option will use the district’s existing curriculum.

In addition to the completely online learning contingency plan, the district also has developed a hybrid learning contingency plan that would allow students to still attend school in person but for more limited hours each week.

However, Wade cautioned that administrators will not make a final decision on which plan will start off the school year until later in the summer, and the district will release more details on each of the learning options Friday to allow parents to make a more informed decision before registering their students.

District staff will share more information on the district’s fall semester learning plans, as well as other logistics and operation plans, during the school board meeting Wednesday evening.

The board meets 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Robinson Education Center, 2031 Poyntz Ave. This will be the board’s first in-person meeting since moving to an online format in April, and district administrators ask that anyone attending wear a mask. A livestream of the meeting will be available on the board’s Facebook page.

During the work session portion of the meeting, the district’s reopening teams — focused on facilities and safety, budget and support, teaching and learning and communications and coordination — will give updates on their teams’ respective portions of the district’s overall back-to-school plan.

On Wednesday morning, the state board of education is expected to discuss and approve the Kansas State Department of Education’s “Navigating Change 2020” guidelines for local school districts. A draft of those guidelines was shared with superintendents last week, and Gov. Laura Kelly will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to share her plan for education.

At the local board’s regular meeting Wednesday, members will review an annual report from the childhood nutrition department and handbook changes for the early learning centers and Manhattan High. High school administrators are requesting several changes for the school’s handbook:

  • Adding language on procedures for online classes and expected behavior
  • Revising the dress code to allow headwear starting this school year
  • Making lockers by student request
  • Banning the use of cell phones to make unauthorized audio/video recordings, while claiming district ownership of any student recordings or photographs made while at school
  • Updating immunization requirements, in accordance with district policy
  • Replacing student planner with a student passbook to use as hall passes
  • Revising tardy policy to outline consequences for repeated violations

The board also will consider a $333,000 transportation department request to purchase three 71-passenger buses and a special education bus, a $141,000 request to design and implement new fire suppression and HVAC systems at Bergman Elementary, a $336,000 request to add on or change card access gateways at Manhattan High’s west campus, and a $563,000 request to replace ceilings and install polished concrete flooring at Anthony and Eisenhower middle schools.

OUR NEIGHBORS | Metal detector hobbyist spurred by love of history, treasure hunting

Metal detector in hand, Steven Hendricks waved the rod back and forth across the ground in City Park Saturday morning, listening to the variations and volume of the beeps as the detector picked up a signal. The sounds and numbers on his detector’s screen indicated what type of item it might be, as well as approximately how deep it was buried.

Hendricks dropped to his knees, pulled out a shovel and began methodically slicing into the soft dirt to disturb the area around the item. He repeated the action a couple more times, sticking a handheld metal detector in the hole to pinpoint the metal source that triggered the signals.

About a foot down, Hendricks found the bit of treasure — a modern dime. Not every dig uncovers something as rare or telling as, say, a silver pocket watch from the late 1800s found near Irving — one of Hendrick’s favorite finds yet — but he said it’s all part of the process. For every one interesting thing he discovers, Hendricks said he probably finds about 50 trash items, which he ends up taking with him to dispose of properly.

Hendricks, 47, of Manhattan, is a metal detecting hobbyist. He runs his own service, Kansas Relics and Recovery, to search areas in and around Manhattan for residents and historical groups, but he also is president of the Topeka Treasure Hunting Club.

Metal detecting is something Hendricks first became interested in when he was about 12 years old. He was working on an outdoor chore — not well, Hendricks said — and his mother came out to help. While they were working, his mother’s engagement ring and wedding band flew off her hand and into the field behind the house. They didn’t realize this until a few days later and subsequent searches were unfruitful.

A couple years later, Hendricks and his mom encountered someone metal detecting at a park. After telling the man her story, he offered to come out to their property with a team to help search. This time, they were able to find the rings. Hendricks said he remembers clearly how happy his mom was that day, which eventually spurred him to purchase his own metal detector about 20 years ago.

Hendricks has now been able to return that favor to other people.

He and a friend recently searched someone’s yard in Ogden after a woman said she’d lost her engagement ring during a mud fight.

“We went out there and sure enough, embedded in the remnants of the mud, was her engagement ring,” Hendricks said. “She cried, she gave us hugs, and the moment was like this big, magical moment so that’s kind of why we do this as a complimentary service. Things like that are a lot of value to people.”

The North Carolina native moved to Manhattan in late 2018 when his job was relocated to Fort Riley. Before then, he’d spent about 18 years living and working in Okinawa, Japan. He’d initially gone there by serving in the military and when his service ended, he became employed by the federal government to work on maintaining computer networks and security.

Hendricks said he typically goes out two or three times a week, either for his own interest or to work a job through a resident or a museum or historical society. If he’s not contacted by someone and wants to search a private property, Hendricks said he makes sure to gain permission first and ensures people know he doesn’t leave any marked differences in yards during digs. He also often brings along a second metal detector in case people are interested in searching with him.

If it’s the latter, he and team will typically be partnered with an archaeologist who will take care of the dig and dating of items.

One time, he said, the Kansas Historical Society contacted him to help search an area behind the Kansas Cattle Auction building off Highway 24. Historians believe it used to to be the site of a large Native American village.

“We found copper Indian heads, which tells a big story because they usually use flint,” Hendricks said. “(Settlers) came in and we traded copper pots with Native Americans. Native Americans said ‘I don’t know what to do with this copper pot,’ and they actually cut them up and turned them into arrowheads.”

Typically, Hendricks said he and other detectors try to look out for older homes or research specific historical sites to help decide where to search, but if there’s anything the hobby has shown him, it’s that treasure can be found everywhere.

Though Hendricks lives in a newer neighborhood, which is only a few years old, he decided to scan his yard on a whim. He found several silver coins dating back to the early to mid-1900s scattered throughout underneath the ground. Hendricks said he did some research and discovered that a farm had been located in his cul-de-sac.

During WWII, homeowners didn’t trust banks and stored money at their homes. At some point, Hendricks said, the family buried money in a jar in the ground, which was forgotten. During redevelopment for his neighborhood, Hendricks said the jar must have burst and spread out over what would be his yard.

“For me, I just like the history,” Hendricks said. “There’s so much history, and it’s crazy that right underneath your foot, you never know what could be down there.”

Riley County discusses recommending mask-wearing instead of 'strongly' recommending it

Riley County commissioners Monday approved recommending that the public wear masks, but they stopped short of “strongly” recommending it.

Commissioners John Ford and Ron Wells were in favor of “strongly” recommending mask-wearing across the county, but chairman Marvin Rodriguez said he didn’t want to go that far.

“That’s how I feel about that part,” he said. “I don’t mind it being said in there, but I don’t know about the words of ‘strongly encouraging.’”

Rodriguez said he thinks a strong recommendation or encouragement “seems almost like a mandate to me.”

“Because then other people are going to tell them, ‘Why don’t you have a mask on?’” Rodriguez said.

He said he thinks telling people to wear masks through a mandate is a violation of civil rights.

Wells said the county did not want to force anyone to wear masks but did want to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think it’s smart to strongly encourage or strongly recommend,” Wells said. But Wells and Ford decided to defer to Rodriguez’ position in the interest of unanimity.

Riley County Health Department Julie Gibbs said she was OK with just recommending mask-wearing, instead of “strongly” recommending it.

She said she would like to have language finalized by Friday for a new local health order, which will go into effect early next week. The current local health order, which requires bars and restaurants to close at midnight to minimize crowding, expires Sunday night.

The commission is also recommending proper hand hygiene and other health protocols to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition, commissioners heard an update from Tami Robison, county budget and finance officer. She said officials will be meeting this week with entities from communities, schools and higher education institutions to talk about the funding the county is receiving from the federal government to help during the coronavirus pandemic. Riley County will receive close to $15 million.

In other action Monday, commissioners:

  • Discussed public works director Leon Hobson’s decision to retire. Hobson had announced earlier this year he is retiring, effective Dec. 28.
  • Listened to Rodriguez discuss his wife’s recent medical procedures. He also said people have stolen some of his large campaign signs twice so he planned to report the theft Monday to the Riley County Police Department. Rodriguez said he doesn’t know who’s doing it. “I feel that whoever’s doing it is really not helping the situation,” Rodriguez said.

RCHD monitoring possible COVID-19 outbreak sites; county adds 9 cases for 364 total

The Riley County Health Department is monitoring several possible coronavirus outbreak sites, but officials are not saying what those sites are.

“We’re monitoring locations throughout town, throughout the county,” said Andrew Adams, emergency preparedness coordinator at the health department. “And so we’ve had our eye on some places. We’re always working with those different locations, whether it’s healthcare facilities, whether it’s those more leisure time facilities.”

Adams said when officials have the “appropriate information,” the health department will release it to the public.

“But we are working with several, several places throughout the county, monitoring, looking at where our cases were, where our cases have been, where their contacts are,” Adams said, “so that we can get ahead of anything, get on top of anything, hopefully before something like that would spring up, whether it’s a facility like skilled nursing or long-term care or it’s a bar or restaurant.”

Officials previously said they will announce a site to the public when five or more cases are tied to a single location and time. Officials have previously announced outbreaks associated with K-State Athletics, Aggieville and the Leonardville Nursing Home.

The Leonardville Nursing Home outbreak is closed, Adams said.

“That outbreak has officially been declared over at this point in time,” Adams said. “But we’re still looking at the couple of places in Aggieville, we’re still looking at K-State Athletics and those things. We’re getting close to those points where these different locations are starting to kind of officially be over for an outbreak.”

In addition, the health department is following up with businesses, such as restaurants and bars, to check the required screening logs and to answer any questions.

“Our goal is to make sure everyone is safe and the managers have all of their questions answered,” said Julie Gibbs, director of the Riley County Health Department and local health officer.

Gibbs also said the health department assigned a staff member to businesses who have positive coronavirus cases to help them with exposure and any questions they may have.

Riley County on Tuesday confirmed nine new coronavirus cases since Monday, officials said. The county also added 18 new cases over the weekend.

The county has a total of 364 cases.

Of the 364 cases, 228 are recovered and 133 are active. Three people have died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported 20,058 cases, 1,343 hospitalizations and 288 deaths statewide Monday.

That is up 1,447 cases, 39 hospitalizations and four deaths from Friday.

Geary County has 119 cases while Pottawatomie County has 93 cases, KDHE reported Monday. Geary County is up four cases, and Pottawatomie County is also up four from Friday.

There have been 211,117 negative tests so far in Kansas, according to KDHE. KDHE releases data Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Riley County Fair introduces safety plans for this year's event

Riley County Fair officials are modifying this year’s event for safety as coronavirus cases continue to increase.

“As the number of cases jumped in Riley County, it became readily apparent that we needed to modify the schedule and the process,” said Gary Fike, county extension director.

There will be no “open-class” exhibits this year. That category includes events such as the berry pie contest and pedal tractor pull, among others.

“It’s disappointing in many ways, and I’m sure there are very few people who are excited about the different format,” Fike said. “But in the end, we are trying to be responsible and accountable to the public, and at the same time, allow the 4-Hers and their families to grow in their project areas in terms of new skills and knowledge gained.”

Pottorf Hall will not be open to the public this year, according to the Riley County Fair website.

There will be no public clothing style revue this year, either. Judges will still evaluate the outfits, according to a press release sent to The Mercury by Fike.

Social distancing is encouraged at the fair, which is planned for July 23-27. People must wear masks in order to abide by the latest city ordinance.

Judges will still assess 4-H projects and award ribbons, but it will be done one-on-one with social distancing measures, such as setting up barriers, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer, according to the press release. After the projects are judged, people will take them home instead of the projects being displayed to the public.

This is similar for the animal projects. Animals will go to their respective shows, be judged and then return home.

The livestock premium sale will look different this year as people are instructed to make bids through watching the 4-H member with their animal on a large screen, instead of having people show their animals in the actual ring. The horse show is still planned for July 18.

The Kaw Valley Rodeo was canceled back in May because of coronavirus concerns. The carnival also isn’t coming to the fair this year.

In addition, the Kansas State Fair is canceled this year because of the pandemic, but livestock shows are still planned, according to the fair website.

This is the first time the fair has ever been canceled in 106 years, according to the website.

Plans for the 2021 state fair will be announced later this year.