State Board of Education rejects Gov. Kelly’s proposal to delay start of schools

The State Board of Education on Wednesday rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order to delay the start of school until Sept. 9. The decision on when to start school is now up to local school districts and Kelly is recommending they start later because of the record surge of COVID-19 cases that Kansas is currently experiencing.

“Our decisions must be informed by public health experts not politics. This votes puts our students, faculty, their families and our economy at risk” Kelly said. “I will continue to work with our school districts to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and ask every school district to delay the start of school.”

The board voted 5-5 on the Kelly’s proposed executive order, which essentially killed the measure because it required a majority vote on the 10-member board. Under a new state law, Kelly must get permission from the State Board of Education to issue an executive order to close or delay schools.

Voting for the order were Board Chair Kathy Busch, R-Wichita; Ann Mah, D-Topeka; Jim McNiece, R-Wichita; Jim Porter, R-Fredonia and Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City. Voting against the order were Jean Clifford, R-Garden City; Michelle Dombrosky, R-Olathe; Deena Horst, R-Salina; Ben Jones, R-Sterling and Steve Roberts, R-Overland Park.

Kelly sought to delay opening school until Sept. 9 to provide time to lower the surge of COVID-19 cases, which have been spiking in recent weeks, and give teachers and administrators adequate time to prepare for social distance classrooms and online learning.

Supporters of her proposal noted dangers of starting school as the pandemic increased.

“I want to be on the right side of history. When I had the chance to save children lives I voted yes,” said Mah.

But opponents of the order also said they were thinking of the health and academic progress of children who need the social interaction of school.

Another point of contention was local control. Opponents of the order said the pandemic’s spread was not the same everywhere and local school boards should determine when and how schools open.

Horst said delaying the start of school would extend the school year into June when many rural students are depended on to work on their family farms.

But Busch pushed back on calls for local control, saying the pandemic didn’t stop at district borders. And Waugh noted, “Teachers desperately want to be back in their classrooms with students, but many of them are terrified to return. Some of them are creating or revisiting wills. Others are taking early retirement or considering changing careers.”

Earlier Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Kansas was experiencing a dangerous increase in COVID-19. “Basically we are in an exponential, viral growth phase. This is a terrible trend line and it has not leveled off yet,” he said.

KDHE reported 771 additional COVID cases since Monday, totaling 24,105 cases throughout the state. More than 300 Kansans have died from COVID-19.

Kelly’s effort to delay school produced a whirlwind of public debate. The State Board of Education received 10,400 comments through its website and board members reported receiving thousands of emails and phone calls.

The board’s decision, however, doesn’t affect another executive order requiring masks, daily temperature checks, social distancing and hand sanitizing in Kansas schools.

That order says, with certain exceptions, students, faculty, staff, vendors and other visitors to public or private K-12 schools must cover their mouth and nose with a mask. It requires six-feet of distance between individuals and students and staff to sanitize their hands no less than once every hour. In addition, everyone entering a school building shall have their temperatures checked before coming in.

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