Ronald Oltman, principal at Birchcrest Elementary, gets a bagged lunch ready Thursday at the school. Several schools across the Bellevue Public Schools district are offering free lunches for children ages 1 to 18 amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bellevue Public Schools has prepared itself for the coronavirus outbreak by keeping families informed and promoting healthy living.

The district closed its schools and other buildings March 16 with no tentative return. With the closures, BPS resorted to online learning and creating several stops for families to receive food.

Jeff Rippe, BPS’ superintendent, said the district worked with teachers and principals during spring break to see what opportunities there were for online learning.

Through the Digital Resources page on BPS’ website, bellevuepublicschools.org, families have the opportunity to keep their students engaged and learning while they’re at home with digital lessons. Printed packets are also available for families without internet access.

Rippe said it’s important to keep students engaged even when they’re at home.

“We want to make sure they’re taking advantage of these opportunities as much as possible,” he said.

“Kids are also going to get bored at home — there’s not a lot going on, parents are telling them to stay inside and not socialize with other people. This is one thing kids are used to, and if we provide these opportunities, many kids will take advantage of them.”

Though there are options available, Rippe said none are required.

“We’re trying to reach out to parents and kids and make sure they’re OK,” he said. “These learning opportunities are important, but to me, in my opinion, they’re not the most important thing. The most important thing is the well-being of our students, staff members and families.

“Some of them are going through tough times, they’re hurting right now, they might have lost a job and education might not be a priority to them, and we understand that.”

Rippe said regardless of whether the students come back this school year or next, they will all advance a grade and will not be held back.

Along with optional learning opportunities, the district has also implemented meal support for students, similar to the Summer Meals program.

From 11 a.m. to noon every day during the school week, children ages 1 to 18 can receive food at one of the drive-up sites to take home. Breakfast and lunch will be served, and there will be no charge and no I.D. required.

“That’s very popular — we’ve had over 1,000 students each day,” Rippe said. “Our food service is doing an outstanding job at preparing those meals each day, getting them out to those locations and it’s very quick.”

Food pickups are at the following locations: Avery Elementary, 2107 Avery Road; Belleaire Elementary 1200 W. Mission Ave; Bertha Barber Elementary, 1402 Main St.; Betz Elementary, 605 W. 27th Ave.; Birchcrest Elementary, 1212 Fairfax Drive; Peter Sarpy Elementary, 2908 Vandenberg Ave.; and Twin Ridge Elementary, 1400 Sunbury Drive.

Rippe said he’s pleased with how the staff members and teachers have prepared during the closures.

“They care about their students and families and they want to do as much as they can for them,” he said.

Rippe said the most important thing the district is doing is staying in constant communication with families through social media, emails and phone calls.

“We know not everybody checks emails, might not have email or internet or not on social media,” Rippe said. “Anything we can do to connect to the family, but we don’t want to overburden them, as well.”

Rippe said when they’re cleared to go back to school, the district will operate as if it’s the first day of school again.

“We’ll try to make it as normal as possible,” he said.

“I know there’s a lot of questions out there about prom and graduation, but that all depends, really, on the regulations of having more than 10 people in one setting. If so, we’ll continue to have those. If not, we’ll plan alternative measures or postpone them until we can have them.”

Though the district office is open for phone calls and emails, Rippe said BPS is “really emphasizing social distancing,” and has sanitized its buildings so they’re in top shape when schools open again.

“I believe this is the best thing we can do to keep people safe,” he said. “When we do get back to school, I want every single staff member and student to be healthy so they can come back.”

For any questions about the district closure, contact BPS at 402-293-4000 or email bps@bpsne.net.

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