State Board of Education voices concerns about school year, looking at options

Stressed-out schools and parents and the realization that the COVID-19 spread is getting worse prompted a wide-ranging discussion by the State Board of Education on ways to help districts. 

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said consideration of waiving the requirement that schools have a 1,116-hour year is premature at this point. He also said the question about whether there will be State Assessments this spring is up in the air because the tests must be taken in person, which would be a problem if districts were forced into a remote/online instruction phase because of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, State Board members expressed concerns about overworked teachers having to switch from in-person to remote teaching or combinations of both. They also worried about students who have fallen behind academically, because of less one-on-one instruction, and socially, because of less social contact. 

And they cautioned that when Legislature convenes in January, some legislators will probably propose changes to school operations because of the pandemic.  

Board members said they would continue studying and discussing options that districts could use if they wanted.  

Board member Jean Clifford, R-Garden City, said perhaps one way to relieve stress on schools would be to extend the school year into June instead of trying to jam the curriculum through the current school calendar, which she said was put together when most people thought COVID-19 would be more under control by this point.  

Board Vice Chair Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, urged school boards to meet with their teachers to work on ways to ease the stress. 

Board Chair Kathy Busch, R-Wichita, appealed to those watching the meeting on Zoom. “Help us out. We want our kids in school.” Wear masks, socially distance, practice good hygiene and no mass gatherings, Busch said. 

Earlier, a group of parents, students and doctors from Johnson County urged the State Board to encourage in-person learning, saying that for too many students, remote learning has been inadequate. “What we are doing to them (students) right now is criminal, unethical and needs to change,” said Dr. Christine White. 

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