Alex Stark

Students enter the main doors to Lawrence High, which will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Gov. Kelly orders Kansas school buildings to close for rest of year

All Kansas school buildings are to be closed for the remainder of the school year, Gov. Laura Kelly announced today during a press conference.

This order, which applies to all K-12 schools, public and private, is a response to the recent spread of the COVID-19 virus. While all buildings and activities are closed, Kelly said a task force is currently working on developing a plan to continue schooling, provide food service and ensure childcare for first responders.

The governor said that these actions were necessary for curbing the spread of COVID-19. 

“For weeks, my team of seasoned emergency management professionals have worked around the clock to adjust to rapidly evolving CDC guidance as the threat of COVID-19 has made its way across our nation and into our daily lives,” Kelly said. “We’ve taken painstaking efforts to proceed in ways that make sense for Kansas and respond to the unique needs of our communities. The steps we’re announcing today will create the space we need at the state level to develop a more strategic, resilient infrastructure, so that we can get ahead of this threat and limit its long term impact.”

Gov. Kelly said the spread of the COVID-19 virus couldn’t be controlled if schools continued to remain open. 

“The reality of this pandemic is that it cannot be controlled statewide if school buildings return to normal operations or if they respond inconsistently within our local communities,” Kelly said.

Randy Watson, education commissioner, said the Continuous Learning Task Force is developing lesson plans and guidance for schools throughout Kansas. The plan, he noted, won’t be able to replicate what happens in schools everyday but will provide a “bridge” until schools can reopen.

“We ask for your support of the parents, our communities and our students as teachers and students transition into this new learning environment,” he said.

The task force will share its report at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

In a newsletter following Kelly’s announcement, executive director of communications Julie Boyle said that a plan for continuous learning is expected to be implemented on March 30. Boyle said building administrators will meet with faculty next week for further information.

“These unprecedented circumstances call for all of us to work together as a community to develop solutions for our children,” said Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis in the newsletter. “We understand that school closures shift the responsibility for educating children to families. Our professional staff stands ready to support all students and families.”

Math teacher Matt Ellis believes that, while the news of school closure is disappointing, health and wellness should come first.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” Ellis said. “When you devote your life to teaching students, it’s more than just the subject matter that you do it for. I’m sad about not getting to have in-person interactions, but I do believe that we have to do what’s best for health and safety even if it’s not the fun or easy thing to do.”

Like other Advanced Placement teachers, Ellis wonders how successful the transition to online education will be. While exam dates have not been moved, the Collegeboard has been considering options in response to national school closings.

“The AP Program is finalizing streamlined AP Exam options that would allow students to test at home, depending on the situation in May,” Collegeboard said in an announcement yesterday. “We’re working to give every AP student the opportunity to claim the college credit they’ve earned.”

While senior Ryan Lauts has already committed to play baseball in college, he said the cancellation could leave some players looking to continue athletics in college in a tough spot.

“Playing for LHS and Coach Stoll and the rest of the staff is easily the best baseball experience of my life and I can only imagine what it’s like for all the other spring sports as well,” Lauts said. “Players who aren’t committed but are wanting to continue their athletic career in college are going to have a hard time finding a place since they possibly won’t have their senior year to show colleges what they can do.”

For those looking forward to celebrating the end of their senior year with prom, Showtime and graduation, the cancellation stings especially hard.

“It makes me extremely heartbroken…” senior Allie Grammer said. “I never even knew that I was never going to come back to the school that I call my second home.”

Senior Amelia Vasquez said she feels stunned by how quickly the cancellation came.

“This has all happened so quickly,” Vasquez said. “It’s hard to wrap my brain around.  Who could’ve imagined this on the Friday before Spring Break?”

Sami Turner and Lindsey Fletcher contributed to this report. This is an ongoing story and is expected to update quickly.

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