Watson encourages schools to work toward in-person learning

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson on Friday told school board members their goal should be to have students receive as much in-person learning as possible during the school year. 

Watson urged districts to use as many personnel as possible as teachers and reach out in their communities for alternative classroom sites so that more students can be taught in-person while observing precautions such as wearing masks and socially distancing. 

As districts across Kansas reopened schools in a variety of ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson acknowledged there is a lot of frustration among students, parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. “What we are doing is not sustainable. Parents cannot stay home for nine months. We have to figure out long-term solutions to this,” he said.  

Speaking during the KASB Advocacy Update via zoom, he said the virus will be affecting schools for the entire school year and that remote and hybrid learning models are not as effective as in-person instruction. 

He urged schools to look for additional community venues, such as libraries, churches and gymnasiums, so students can be taught in person by a teacher in groups of 15 children or less. He cited Hesston USD 460 as a district that has found alternative class sites, such as a local convention center.  

To reduce class sizes, he urged schools to use instructional coaches, substitutes, paras, reading specialists and others to teach. “All hands on deck. Everyone is going to need to teach a class this year,” he said. 

To rent out alternative facilities may require additional funds. Watson urged districts to work with their county commissioners and local chambers of commerce to find sites and access federal COVID-19 funds. He said districts may have to dip into their cash reserves. “This is a rainy-day time,” he said. 

Watson acknowledged that education leaders have been caught in “tsunamis” of political dissension over wearing masks, whether to play fall sports, parents refusing to quarantine their students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and more. “The pandemic is taking a toll on every single person,” he said. 

He thanked school board members for their service, acknowledging that they have endured long meetings, public criticism and have had to make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. Watson’s PowerPoint presentation can be accessed here.  Here is a link to a video of Watson’s remarks and here is the podcast link.


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