State Board of Education to take up numerous issues related to pandemic

The State Board of Education on Wednesday decided to take up several emerging issues after Kansas teachers told them about the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone is stretched thin and everyone is tired, but we are all doing our best,” said Stefanie Lane, a fourth-grade teacher with Clay County USD 379.

“I’ve seen teachers in tears talk about leaving the profession, and they are exhausted,” said Julie Loevenstein, fourth-grade teacher with Basehor-Linwood USD 458.

When asked how the State Board could help, Tabatha Rosproy, an early education teacher in Winfield USD 465 and who was named Kansas and National Teacher of the Year, said the pandemic has magnified many problems in schools and society that need to be addressed.

Rosproy urged the board to work on equity issues, both technological and social, to show educators they are as valuable as frontline workers, and to provide increased mental health funding for students and staff.

Some teachers are working to exhaustion, having to provide lessons both in person and online while also maintaining contact with students remotely and making sure they are mentally and physically OK, the teachers said.

Following the presentation, the State Board held an hourlong discussion on how to support schools and families during the pandemic.

The board decided to form a workgroup that will come up with recommendations at its next monthly meeting, scheduled for Nov. 10. The group will look at the 1,116-hour requirement for school instruction, recent federal grants for online learning sites; medical questions related to COVID-19 testing and whether any district reporting requirements could be eased.

“People are just at the breaking point,” Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said. Watson said some districts in hybrid and remote learning are stressing parents, while some schools back onsite are seeing increases in virus spread, which has caused disruptions of activities.

Board member Michelle Dombrowsky, R-Olathe, said students need to be back in school because of mental health issues. She said there is some unnecessary quarantining occurring and added the survival rate of COVID-19 “is huge.”

Board member Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said school districts are doing yeoman’s work, but some communities are not where people are not wearing masks and not socially distancing.

Board member Ben Jones, R-Sterling, who is a substitute teacher, said he sometimes sees teachers exhausted to the point of tears.

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