Question 2 for the 2021 Legislature: COVID and school operations

Question 2 for the 2021 Legislature: COVID and school operations

Between now and Jan. 11, legislators are preparing for what will undoubtedly be an historic session because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once in session, legislators will debate issues concerning how schools should be operating, budget problems and numerous other issues that will directly or indirectly affect public schools. Now is a crucial time for education leaders to develop or solidify relations with legislators, including those who are returning to office and the many new ones, so that our concerns, challenges and suggestions are considered.

Here are the questions that legislators are likely to be asking, some statewide perspectives from KASB, and suggestions on local responses school leaders may want to prepare.

Question 2: How has the COVID pandemic affected your school district’s operations?

Last spring, Governor Laura Kelly ordered all public and private schools to close onsite programs from mid-march to the end of May. Kansas public schools continue to provide on-line teaching and other interaction with students or take-home paper packets, take-home meal services and services like special education under COVID restrictions.

Local Issues: What were the major issues your district experienced last Spring?

During the 2020 special session, the Legislature required that the State Board of Education approve any order by the Governor to close schools. A proposal to require all schools delay in-person learning until after Labor Day was defeated by the Board on a tie vote.

That left the decision when to open for in-person learning or use hybrid or fully remote learning for some or all students, as well school activities, up to local schools or delegated to administrators under board policy.

The result has been a wide range of school opening dates this fall, which learning environments are used, and how schools react to the numbers of positive cases and close contacts under quarantine, the impact on available staff, and which protocols are being used. The State Board of Education has provided non-binding guidance on health and safety requirements, learning based on competencies rather than seat time, and evaluating county conditions.

Local Issues: what process has your district’s school board used to determine onsite, hybrid and remote learning and activities; include local health advice and directives, parent and constituent concerns, employee concerns, liability issues and other.

Preliminary reports show that both the number of students and number of staff positions are down statewide.

Local Issues: What has been your experience so far this school year with the following:

Enrollment: What has happened to your student enrollment, what do you attribute to COVID and do you expect any change to continue next year? (For example, students not returning because of COVID concerns, students transferring to other schools for a different learning environment.)

Employees: How has COVID affected district staffing? Has there been an increase in retirements or resignations? Has it been more difficult to hire positions such as bus drivers, cooks and substitutes?

Quarantine: What has your district experienced regarding positive cases, contact tracing and quarantines? What issues have you had with local health officials and policies, and with family cooperation?

For more detailed information on COVID’s impact on school districts, see this post.

Yesterday: How are districts working to improve learning and what impact will COVID have on student learning and health?

Tomorrow: How has COVID affected school budgets?

Thursday: What is the Gannon school finance case and agreement reached between the Legislature, Governor and Kansas Supreme Court?

Friday: What are school district cash balances or reserve levels?