KASB President’s Perspective: Let grace, compassion, patience lead the wayAustin Harris
The 2019-2020 school year has ended—whew! The last nine weeks of the school year seemed to last for an entire calendar year all by itself. We have navigated such extraordinary change and anxiety in such a short period of time, not to mention the loss of beloved experiences and traditions for our staff and students.
I especially missed honoring our graduating classes this year; my district plans a graduation celebration at each of our high schools in mid-July, conditions permitting, but it will look very different than such past ceremonies.
The burning question on my mind, though, is what’s next? How do I support my district in navigating our return to school this fall? What will that return look like for staff, students, and their families?
As I sat down to write this column, the CDC released enhanced interim guidance for what will be necessary to reopen schools to face-to-face learning. I can say with certainty, that the day-to-day experiences of our students and staff will look very different in our facilities next year, even if we continue to keep the numbers of new COVID-19 cases down through successful mitigation efforts across the state.
These are just a few areas within the CDC guidance that touch on the policymaking responsibilities of board members:
- What are your district’s policies for telework (especially for high-risk employees)?
- What are your district’s policies for virtual learning (especially for high-risk learners)?
- What are the policies around attendance and leave, to encourage and support ill students and staff to stay home?
- What will policies be around use of facilities by outside groups and visitors in your buildings?
- What are the policy impacts of the CDC’s social distancing guidelines on staffing, instruction, transportation, meals, and activities?
- What are the budget implications of the social distancing guidance for class size/staffing ratios?
- How might changes to the school calendar be advisable/necessary to implement a safe return to the classroom?
- What are the budget impacts of cleaning protocols and health checks (e.g., supplies, staff time, protective equipment)?
- How does the language of your negotiated agreement intersect with these issues?
- What waivers/flexibility will be needed from state requirements like seat time/calendar days?
This is just a sampling of the areas that will be impacted from a board policy perspective. KSDE is expected to finalize additional guidance in mid-July, but these are lengthy conversations that likely need to be happening now in all of our districts.
As we continue to navigate what comes next, your advocacy in your community around how parents, community leaders, and legislators can best support the planning and operational work of our education experts—the teachers and administrators who have been leading throughout this pandemic—will be extraordinarily important. I believe we must continue to emphasize with all of these stakeholders the absolute necessity of listening to and following sound public health advice and guidance, letting our educational experts lead, allowing teachers and administrators the time necessary to craft multiple versions of instructional and operational plans, and showing them patience, grace, and compassion if these plans have to be adjusted.
In closing, I want to share my profound thanks to all of you for entrusting me with the work of helping to guide our association. I am proud of KASB’s leadership and support during this tumultuous time, and I know our association will continue to work hard to support your needs. I know that our leadership team of incoming KASB President Lori Blake, incoming President-Elect Brad Bergsma, and myself as past president, will continue supporting this level of service. Finally, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to past Presidents Patrick Woods and Dayna Miller for their service to the association during the 2019-20 school year, and for their years of leadership, mentorship, and service to public education. I am grateful to have been a part of this leadership team this year and look forward to navigating the uncertain waters of our future together.