Educators have questions about Kelly’s effort to delay start of school

Gov. Laura Kelly’s announcement that she will issue an executive order to delay the start of school until Sept. 9 because of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic prompted many questions from educators. 

In a video update to patrons, Smoky Valley USD 400 Superintendent Glen Suppes said the governor’s statement on Wednesday “has taken a lot of us by surprise including a lot of educators who are now scrambling to get questions answered.” 

USD 253 Emporia Superintendent Kevin Case said a delay to the start of school raises many issues. 

“There are so many questions right now,” Case told the Emporia Gazette. “They said they are going to delay the start of school to Sept. 9, well, how is that going to impact our calendar? Are they going to give us some flexibility for the 1,016 hours of student contact time? What will it all look like? There’s just a lot of questions.”  

Kelly said she would issue the delay order Monday. But to take effect, it will need approval of the 10-member State Board of Education under a law that was passed during the special legislative session in June on emergency preparedness.  

Prior to Kelly’s announcement, the State Board accepted a guidance document on reopening school, but board members repeatedly emphasized that it was up to local districts on whether to use the document’s suggestions. 

Kelly also said she would issue an executive order requiring masks, social distancing, daily temperature checks and proper hygiene in schools. But that new law also gives county commissioners the authority to issue less stringent measures in public health.  

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she hoped when the State Board considered Kelly’s executive order it would “take into consideration that one size doesn’t fit all.” State Board members contacted by media after Kelly’s announcement were noncommittal about the executive order, saying they needed to research the issue further. 

Kelly said her decision was based on the safety of students and teachers as COVID-19 cases increase in Kansas.  

“Every action I have taken throughout this pandemic has been in done with three things in mind: Keeping Kansans healthy, keeping our state open for business and getting our kids back to school. Those decisions have been guided by public health experts and science,” Kelly said. 

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have been surging in Kansas after crowd size and stay-at-home restrictions were lifted in the late spring.  

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

The KNEA issued a statement supporting Kelly’s efforts. “KNEA firmly believes safely reopening schools and safely keeping them open is best for students, allows people to get back to work, and is vital for our economy. But the health and well-being of students and educators should never be put at risk,” the group said. 

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which usually opposes Kelly’s policies, issued a statement under the heading, Kansas Businesses Understand School Delay; Concern About Hardships It Will Cause.” 

The statement said: “Much like reopening the state’s economy and businesses forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas schools also must reopen with the safety and well-being of our students and school staff top of mind.” 

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