After rejection of Kelly’s order, school districts move forward with re-opening plans

Kansas districts are implementing school re-opening plans around a surge in COVID-19 cases and a rollercoaster week of activity in Topeka. 

Last week, the Kansas State Department of Education released its “Navigating Change 2020” document to help guide districts through the re-opening process. A day later, the State Board of Education accepted the document’s recommendations, but then hours later Gov. Laura Kelly announced she would issue an executive order to delay the start of school until Sept. 9. Kelly also issued an order to require masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing and temperature checks in schools. 

A week later, the State Board rejected Kelly’s delay order in a tie vote, leaving to local school boards the decision on when to re-open buildings and start the school year. 

Meanwhile, districts statewide have been working on re-opening plans as COVID-19 cases reach record highs and pressure mounts from all quarters.  

There are those who want schools to reopen as soon as possible to those who say school buildings should remain closed until the pandemic is under control.  

Wichita USD 259 school board member Mike Rodee told KSN-TV he was hearing a wide range of opinion from parents. “A lot of them want to return to school because they know it’s important for social and emotional. But a lot of them don’t want to come in for health reasons and those types of things.” The Wichita district scheduled a special meeting Thursday to discuss the start of the new school year. 

Andover School Board President Jennifer Seymour told KWCH that board members have heard every side of the issue on how best to start school. 

“There’s the ‘please let my kids come back to school, they miss their friends, they need to learn,’ to the ‘please don’t put my children in that environment, it’s too scary,’ ” Seymour said. 

Some districts across the state have already announced they will delay the start of school and emphasize online learning. 

Kansas City USD 500 and Topeka USD 501 are among several that plan to start school remotely on Sept. 9.  

“The health, safety, and wellbeing of our students and staff is our top priority and we will continue to work closely with the health department as we monitor health issues in our county impacting our students and staff,” Topeka public schools said in a statement. 

Many local boards are scheduled to make final plans within the next few days.  

On Wednesday, Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, urged the State Board to ratify Kelly’s order delaying the start of school because Kansas is 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. 

But Kelly’s order died on a 5-5 vote by State Board members with those opposed to the delay saying it would be better to leave the decision to local districts. 

Public interest in the issue of when and how to start the school year is extremely high. The State Board received 10,400 comments through its website and board members reported receiving thousands of emails and phone calls. Local school board members also report being inundated with input from the public. 

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