By Brooke Greene / Staff writer

With the never-ending uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought upon us, nobody knows what to expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Many businesses, organizations, workplaces, and schools are doing their absolute best to keep their followers and customers informed, and up-to-date on the local gating criteria regarding the pandemic.

COVID-19 came quickly and unexpectedly. Lives were flipped upside down. Jobs were lost, families were torn apart by isolation and deaths, businesses went under, and mental health plummeted.

As the world has adapted to this new sense of “normal”, people are seeing COVID updates on websites, on the news, and many social media platforms. Checking these has become like checking one’s email, just waiting to see who is in the red zone or if the community has pulled through it.

If this is so important, especially to students whose lives revolve around their education, what does Hutchinson Community College do regarding COVID-19 updates?

On HutchCC’s website, there is a red bar at the top of the page that states, “COVID-19 Information”. Students and staff might expect to be able to find consistent updates, but one may be disappointed to see a large gap in our updates. There had not been an update on the website about the pandemic since Aug. 31 until just last week on Oct. 14, although there is a link to the Reno County Health Department’s website, which has comprehensive updates. Some HutchCC students report getting emails about COVID-19 updates, while others don’t, the link between the students and administration seems to be broken, or at least barely hanging on.  

Area public school districts in and around Hutchinson, have had a different approach. When a positive case is confirmed at a school, emails are sent to parents informing them. A Buhler student who has learned remotely this entire school year tested positive, and even then, USD 313 sent an email to parents notifying them. Names of those who test positive – whether an adult or child – are not given. Superintendent of Buhler schools, Cindy Couchman, describes what USD 313 is doing to keep their students, parents, and faculty in the loop.

“We have taken the approach of sharing as much legal information as possible and are following the gating criteria,” Couchman said. “By being transparent we help our students and staff feel more confident in their decisions and courses of action. An update is made to our school website every Friday at noon with information determined by the health department. Our county is in the red currently, but if everyone does their part by social distancing and wearing their masks, we can turn this around quickly.” Couchman fully expects the schools to be up and running with face-to-face classes in a week or two if everyone follows the necessary health guidelines.

Hutchinson and Buhler’s high school have both resorted to alternative education methods. Buhler is hybrid, which means the students are alternated and only attend face-to-face classes certain days of the week to limit how many students are on campus. Hutchinson started remote learning this week. Hayley Waymire, a freshman soccer player at Hutchinson High School, feels sympathy for the teachers and administration who are trying their best to navigate students through these uncertain times, “Being a freshman in high school going through a global pandemic is tough,” Waymire said. “The teachers are doing well in keeping us informed but they are struggling just as much as we are. I feel like we can all do better as a community, and keep positive attitudes and be uplifting through this hard time.” Balancing her life as a new high school student, a soccer player, and online education is bound to have its challenges, but she is one of many students who shows great strength in helping to fight this virus by wearing her mask and taking the needed precautions.

For some students, the experience has been overwhelming. Students typically praise the day they finally become high schoolers, but being new to high school during a pandemic changed how high school is viewed.

Sydney Jarrett, a freshman at Hutchinson High School, spoke strongly about the different levels of transparency in her school.

“I feel like the school could do a bit better with communicating with the students,” Jarrett said. “For example, I was unsure if we were going to have a homecoming dance until the day before homecoming. The high school is doing a good job of making sure people are wearing their masks, but students still slip them off when they can. That, personally, makes me feel unsafe. It would be very helpful if the school and teachers would communicate better with the students personally, rather than us waiting to get emails which barely anyone I know looks at. I don’t feel very informed as for where we are standing cases wise but I know the district is working hard and they are doing a great job spacing out the students and trying to keep us happy during these hard times.”

While Jarrett said she felt less informed about the cases, communication is present between the school and students, but priority communication is through parent emails. She has a point when stating that students her age do not check their emails, but the information is nonetheless, being released.

The spacing between student desks at HutchCC is not consistent, many students complain about being elbow to below to other students in a class, with only a mask as protection. There have been reports of students, and even some faculty, not wearing masks during class.

As of this week, there are no plans for HutchCC to go with remote learning, as was the case in the spring.

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