Gov. Kelly to delay start of school year to Sept. 9

Delay comes after state school board approves guidance for reopening

Students+enter+the+main+doors+to+Lawrence+High%2C+which+will+remain+closed+for+the+rest+of+the+school+year.

Alex Stark

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

By Nadia Sanburn, Co-Online Editor in Chief

The first day of school will be pushed back until Sept. 9, Gov. Laura Kelly announced this afternoon.

She said she planned to issue an executive order on Monday. Her move came a few hours after the Kansas State Board of Education reviewed guidance for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly and Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said schools need time to respond to the recommendations as the state addresses escalating numbers of COVID-19 cases. 

Gov. Kelly reminded Kansans that mask use and social distancing should stay in effect. The decision to give schools extra time to adapt won’t come without criticism, but Kelly said she is confident she is doing what is right for the health and well-being of Kansans. 

“I believe that real leaders aren’t afraid to confront crises head on,” she said.

One LHS student said that instead of delaying the school year, in-person instruction should just be cancelled altogether. 

 “I really hate that they always do delays instead of saying no in-person at all and just moving on,” said senior Donnavan Dillon. 

Junior Aidan Zimney said delaying the first day is the right choice so schools can prepare, but he also has concerns.

“When I heard that school was closing, I was worried,” he said. “Going into my junior year, I will be taking tougher classes that require almost all the days of the year. Starting after Labor Day will force the classes to go at an even faster rate, which might compound any stress that already exists because of either school or the virus.”

The guidance approved by the state school board acts as a blueprint for districts to plan for the inevitable return to school. As cases surge across the country, the uncertainty surrounding reopening is present and a source of anxiety for many. Kansas has been reporting record-high spikes in cases as total positive cases surpassed 20,000 this week.

Amid demonstrations from people concerned about in-person classes, USD 497’s school board on Monday discussed its plans for reopening prior to the state’s guidelines being released. They planned to review the report before finalizing an individual plan for the district. 

State school board member Ann Mah, whose area includes Lawrence, said during Wednesday’s meeting that she wanted to reiterate to everyone that these are just guidelines, not orders to open or close schools in Kansas. 

“We make no blanket orders because as this document demonstrates, there is no one best answer for all districts,” she said. 

 

The guidance calls for schooling to be split into three categories based on the recommendations of local health departments as conditions change:

  • On-Site, which will happen in a community with low cases. Schools will be able to operate at 100 percent capacity in a fully on-site situation.
  • Hybrid, which will happen when cases in the community are moderate, and schools will operate at 50 percent capacity.
  • Remote, which will be when cases are high in the given community, and schooling will be online-only..

 

Ashley Goss, the deputy secretary for Kansas Public Health, said decisions in the more than 1,000 page report were based on advice from multiple sources. 

“We based our recommendations based off of some CDC guidance as well as the recommendations from the pediatricians, so what’s best for our kids,” she said. “So there may be some conflict in information, but this is what we’ve come up with for Kansas.” 

One of the most important aspects will be to strengthen the communication between the local health departments and school districts. Health departments will be the deciding powers in determining whether or not it would be safe to allow in-person schooling. 

Currently, the Douglas County Health Department has held the county in Phase 3 of reopening amid escalating cases. The county recorded 461 cases as of yesterday afternoon with an additional 13 cases being added since the previous day.

 

The state guidelines call for measures intended to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Among the suggested measures:

  • Temperatures to be taken as staff members enter the building.
  • A series of yes or no questions asked to determine if any symptoms are showing.
  • If staff are running a fever or feeling any symptom possibly linked to COVID, they will be sent home immediately and not allowed in the building.
  • Whether students will undergo the same temperature and questioning screening is a decision that will be left up to districts.
  • Safety training for staff and students. 

 

“Temperature and symptom screening should absolutely happen every single day with all of your staff, in every school,” Goss said. “This is something we’ve been doing at the state since COVID began, when we actually started to bring staff back in.” 

USD 497 will be looking at the guidance and meeting with the local health department as it adjusts plans for the fall — now with the extra time given by Gov. Kelly’s executive order. 

“There have been a lot of questions that we don’t have the answers to and we are still navigating,” Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said at Monday’s meeting. 

Lee Norman, the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, urges Kansans to continue wearing masks and keep up hand washing. 

“We need healthy Kansans to ensure a healthy Kansas economy,” he said.

 

Cuyler Dunn contributed to this report.