Kansas education leaders respond to coronavirus

Kansas education leaders Thursday took action to give Commissioner Randy Watson broad authority to waive public school laws if health officials close schools because of coronavirus.

Later, Watson issued guidance to school districts. Here is a link to that guidance. And here is a link to the Zoom meeting hosted by Watson earlier today on COVID-19.

The State Board of Education in a 9-0 vote granted Watson the ability to waive legal requirements on schools concerning the length of school days, hours and term; suspension and cancellation of school operations and activities; method and manner of deliver of educational content; school attendance and duration and graduation requirements.

Watson said he could use that authority only if local health officials ordered schools to close.  The action by the State Board of Education will be reviewed at the board’s next monthly meeting on April 14.

The action was taken in response to the ever widening spread of coronavirus. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced three new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Johnson County, bringing the total in Kansas to four. Across the country, events were being canceled to prevent large numbers of people congregating together.

“This is a fast-moving situation,” Watson said. He said education leaders must stay abreast of the situation because it is changing rapidly. And Watson emphasized numerous times for education officials to defer to health officials on the issue of whether to close schools.

Watson said if the local or state health department closes a school because of coronavirus (14 days), the school has three options. Those are:

1. Make up the missed time prior to June 30.

2. Submit a proposal to KSDE for online learning that can be counted as time in school. There are specific requirements on that and will be difficult to meet, Watson said.

3. Submit to Watson and State Board to waive the legally required number of days and hours that school must be in session.

If a district closes voluntarily without being ordered by health officials, then the state requirements of time of instruction and other areas stay in place, he said.

Watson added, “This is a time to be vigilant but not be panicked.”

He said listen to health officials, who will make the best decisions. Education leaders should also frequently visit the websites of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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