Reopening school guidance released by KSDE

State education officials Tuesday released their guidance to help start the new school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the leaders emphasized that local districts with local input will decide how their schools will reopen.

The “Navigating Change 2020” draft guidance was released to the State Board of Education, which is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday. Here is a link to the document.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson acknowledged a wide variance of public opinion existed on how schools should re-start, along with much anxiety as the start of school approaches in mid-August as COVID-19 cases have been on the rise.

Watson urged calm, patience and collaboration. He pleaded with Kansans to stay off of social media and instead volunteer to help districts put their local plan together. “When we roll up our sleeves, we will find the solution,” he said.

The bulk of the approximately 1,100 page “Navigating Change 2020” document deals with classroom instruction to ensure high quality and equitable learning in all grades. Teachers will probably focus on the parts of the plan that deal with their specific grade bands, officials said.

“The overall goal is we have to have strong learning environments,” said Assistant Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander.

Another part deals with the nuts and bolts of opening schools safely. The guidance covers on-site learning, remote instruction and a combination of the two but leaves decisions to local education and health officials.

Some of operating guidance at schools include:

— Students above fifth-grade, staff and school visitors should wear masks;

— Everyone should wash hands every hour;

— Social distancing of at least six feet should occur wherever possible;

— Students and employees who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should be prohibited from school;

— Meal service periods should be extended to allow for fewer students in the serving area at one time.

Education officials said health experts said children fifth-grade and under probably shouldn’t wear masks because the masks would be a distraction to them.

There is also guidance advising daily temperature readings of students although the document acknowledges at large schools that could cause more problems if large numbers of students have to line up to get their temperatures read.

Watson said he expected school district reopening plans will vary, depending on the status of COVID-19 spread in their areas.

Board Member Jim McNiece, of Wichita, praised the guidance report, saying, “Our schools and our communities are going to benefit from this. We need to be ready for any contingency and that is what you provided us in this report.”

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