More than 14,000 students throughout the Panhandle won't hear school bells ring until at least May 1 - and possibly not again until next year.

School districts throughout the Panhandle were notifying parents that all schools in the ESU #13 service area will close until May 1. Letters from the districts indicated that the closure may continue past that date.

Notices read: "After consultation with COVID-19 Unified Command, it has been determined that all schools in the Nebraska Panhandle will be closed through May 1st, with the possibility of schools being closed for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. This decision will be re-evaluated as circumstances change, with parents and families updated accordingly and extended as needed. This is a precautionary measure; there are currently no confirmed cases in the Panhandle; however, local health and school officials are watching the COVID-19 situation in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota closely. School Superintendents met with Unified Command today and agreed this action would help prevent exposure to our area to flatten the curve and decrease the spread of disease."

Most alerts issued by school districts only listed the above paragraph. However, in a letter issued by Scottsbluff Superintendent Rick Myles, he described schooling as one of those primary expectations in every day life that have been jolted by changes made due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The closure of schools is dramatic," he said. "However, it does not mean the end of education. Our staff is already developing and implementing plans with the goal of continuing to support all of our students and families."

Myles' letter also contained additional information, including that all schools would no longer be allowing adults or students in buildings through the closure. Food distribution would continue, according to schedules previously set. 

Many parents had already been expecting the announcement, with teachers having been assessing students Wi-Fi needs and gathering other information since school districts announced on March 15 that schools would be closed for at least two weeks "to flatten the spread" of the coronavirus. The primary question had been the length of the closure and then, how will schools provide alternative education in the meantime. 

Throughout the state, 244 public districts have announced they have closed. The districts enroll about 329,000 students and employ about 24,000 teachers. According to a 2019 report on the ESU #13 website, the 11 counties of the Panhandle is comprised of 21 school districts, employing at least 1,285 teachers and enrolling at least 14,000 students. 

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