Gov. Kelly says she will delay opening of schools until Sept. 9

Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced she will issue executive orders to delay the opening of schools until Sept. 9.

Citing record levels of COVID-19 in Kansas, Kelly said it would be too dangerous to open school doors as previously scheduled next month.

“I cannot in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all-time high and continuing to rapidly rise,” Kelly said at a news conference with Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson and Kansas State Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman.

“Putting nearly half a million kids in daily, large gatherings is the exact opposite of what health experts have urged us to do. We can’t risk the lives of our teachers, administrators, custodians, our students or their parents by opening schools in just over three weeks,” Kelly said.

Kelly said she will issue the executive order delaying the start of school on Monday, along with an executive order mandating the wearing of face masks, social distancing, daily temperature checks and proper hygiene in school buildings.

Under a new state law, Kelly must get approval of the State Board of Education to delay reopening. The State Board will likely take up the matter next week, Watson said.

Regarding an executive order mandating certain practices, such as masking, it was unclear if counties could opt out. These practices were suggested in the “Navigating Change 2020” document that had been accepted by the State Board of Education earlier Wednesday and provided guidance for districts to institute in-person and remote learning and a combination of the two.

While praising the Navigating Change document, Kelly insisted it was her responsibility as governor on when schools should reopen.

Kelly, who was the first governor in the country to shut down schools statewide in March, said delaying the start of the school year will give education leaders time to work with county officials in securing masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer. The delay will also allow local education officials time to thoroughly review what opening strategy will work best.

But most importantly, Kelly said, the extra time will give Kansas the opportunity to reduce the infection rate and get the number of cases trending downward.

Kelly’s announcement came as COVID-19 cases in Kansas are reaching record highs and some local officials are instituting tighter restrictions on wearing masks after first rejecting those restrictions.

Since the pandemic started, Kelly has sought tighter restrictions but has been at odds with Republican legislative leaders who have sought fewer restrictions.

On Monday, Kansas pushed over 20,000 total COVID-19 cases; a nearly eight percent increase over the weekend. Kansas has an average of 451 new COVID-19 cases per day during the seven-day period ending Monday, which was a record high. Nearly 300 Kansans have died from the disease.

Earlier Wednesday, the State Board praised the “Navigating Change 2020” guidance plan for districts but emphasized the document should only be used to assist districts. State Board members said districts will have to address numerous decisions while the spread of the virus changes daily. “I do not envy our local boards of education,” said State Board Member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kansas.

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