How will Kansas re-open schools?

An unprecedented planning effort is under way to re-open Kansas schools in August while also preparing for the possibility of another interrupted school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to open school in August,” Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson said Wednesday during a briefing to the State Board of Education. “And were going to keep kids safe and families safe,” he added.

Hundreds of education leaders, including school board members, parents, health officials, legislators and others have been working on plans to reopen schools, ensure that facilities are safe and academic rigor and accountability are maintained.

The challenges are immense.

School officials face numerous conflicting views in which some have demanded schools open as scheduled while others have said they won’t return to schools if the risk of spreading COVID-19 continues.

In addition, decisions to open and close schools will largely be up to local school and health officials. “It’s going to have to be really tight communication between the school district and county health,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander.

And when schools reopen they will still have to provide blended systems to serve students whose parents keep them home for continuous learning while others go to school.

The reopening also comes with increased fiscal costs, such as the need for more cleaning supplies and social distancing equipment, at a time when the state faces dramatic revenue declines related to COVID-19.

The work at the state level will be “guidances” for local school districts. The guidance document will be submitted to the State Board of Education on July 14.

Local school boards across the state have been discussing reopening issues and making preparations. Watson emphasized the guidance is now a work in progress and once finished can be used as recommendations to local districts. He acknowledged there is a lot of anxiety across the state in preparing the next school year.

Gov. Laura Kelly shut down schools in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus and educators switched to online continuous learning plans for most instruction through the end of the year. Kansas’ continuous learning plans have been praised throughout the nation. Watson said continuous learning was an emergency plan, while the new guidance being composed will focus on accountability measures to ensure students are learning what they need to learn despite disruptions and changes to traditional instruction.

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