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All K-12 schools, activities ordered to close for two weeks

Update 3-17-2020 6:56 p.m. — Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered all K-12 buildings to close for the remainder of the school year.

All K-12 schools, including practices and activities, have been ordered today to close for 14 days by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

These closures, aimed to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, also extend to recreational facilities, libraries and large public gatherings of more than 250 people. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said in an email to The Budget that the district will submit a petition to waive the minimum school hours and days legally required by the state.

“If it is approved, we will not have to make up the days,” Lewis said.

That waiver ability was granted to State Education Commissioner Randy Watson yesterday by the Kansas Board of Education for situations where school districts are forced to close by health department orders. Executive Director of Communications Julie Boyle said in a news release the district believes that waiver will be granted.

“The district continues to discuss options for providing essential services, such as supporting learning from home and working with community partners to provide food services,” Boyle said. “Updates will be shared as decisions are made.”

The health department told the Lawrence-Journal World earlier today that schools would not be cancelled unless a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Douglas County. While no case has been confirmed, the county is following similar proactive actions taken by Shawnee and Riley County.

Douglas County Health Officer Thomas Marcellino said student and faculty travel over spring break has increased the danger of spread, especially as some may not be aware they are a carrier of the virus.

“We are looking to restrict the amount of contact in this two-week window to allow for symptoms and the incubation period to pass from people who might be returning from spring break,” Marcellino said in the health department’s official announcement.

It is not yet clear whether classified staff such as paraeducators, who are paid hourly, will be compensated for missed time during this break.

“We know that unexpected school closures are a hardship for some staff and families, especially vulnerable populations who depend on the consistency and predictability of our support and services and school lunches,” Lewis said in a Tweet earlier today.

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