Governor urges schools to abide by executive order on masks, other COVID-19 precautions

As Kansas schools prepare to start a new year, Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday urged districts to abide by her executive order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Kelly’s comments came during a conversation over zoom with a group of teachers from across the state and state Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, and then a short news conference.

Kelly issued Executive Order 20-59, which took effect Monday, that requires masking, social distancing, hand sanitizing and temperature checks in all K-12 schools.

“I am firm believer if we are going to bring folks back together in groups we have to implement all the safety precautions we can,” Kelly said.

But on Tuesday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a legal opinion that said county commissions and local schools boards can ignore the order and make their own decisions.

Kelly said she was confident her executive order was on “solid ground,” but added, “and even if we weren’t, it’s the right thing to do. We know that wearing masks, maintaining social distance, proper hygiene, avoiding lots of folks in one space, works.”

She pointed to examples, such as New York, where COVID-19 mitigation actions have reduced the spread while school openings amid lax precautions, such as Georgia, have resulted in some schools having to close again.

“Why don’t we just learn from what has happened with others, rather than putting our own kids through that kind of an experiment, or our own teachers through that kind of experiment?” she said.

In speaking with teachers, Kelly noted that child care availability has become extremely important as some schools prepare to start the new year with remote learning or a combination of both on-site and online.

In response to one teacher, Kelly said she would check on what the state can do to increase access for teachers and other school workers to mental health services, noting that K-12 employees are under a lot of stress.

Kelly also asked school officials to help get the word out for Kansans to be counted during the Census because federal officials have shortened the counting period, setting a deadline of Sept. 30.

On the issue of school sports, Kelly said she has heard of ideas about flipping the fall and spring sports schedules, so that the more individualized sports, such as golf and tennis, could be played now and the traditional fall and winter sports, such as football and basketball, could be played in the spring. This would delay contact sports until after a possible vaccine was developed, she said.

Teachers thanked the governor, state and their local education officials for using their input in the various school building reopening plans.

Kristy Oborny, an elementary school teacher with Hays USD 489, said adjusting from one education plan to another as the pandemic situation changes has been difficult. “It has been hard because things change so quickly. We have to pivot quickly as educators when our whole life is based on planning.”

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