Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to delay the opening of schools until after Labor Day surprised USD 257 Superintendent Stacey Fager.
“We’ve been gearing up, getting ready to start the school year,” he said. “The positives are it will put all school districts on the same page as far as start time, and it will give us more time to plan and get safety procedures in place to protect our students and staff.”
The governor on Wednesday announced she would issue an executive order to delay the start of the school year because of a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
The Kansas Board of Education approved roughly 1,100 pages of reopening guidelines for local boards of education, which included such things as wearing masks, temperature checks and hourly handwashing. The guidelines weren’t mandatory, but Kelly said she would require some of those safety measures once schools did open.
KELLY’S announcement came as the state reported its worst weeklong spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The governor also didn’t rule out ordering the closing of bars and taverns again, with public health officials blaming a lack of mask use and social distancing in those places for part of the surge.
Kelly’s order must be approved by the State Board of Education under a law enacted last month that resulted from a compromise between the Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature often critical of her handling of the pandemic. The GOP has an 8-2 majority on the elected state school board, but it is less conservative than the Legislature.
“I cannot in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all-time and continuing to rapidly rise,” Kelly said during Wednesday’s news conference.
The state Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday that Kansas has had 20,933 cases since the pandemic began, up 865, or 4.4% in just two days. The health department reported COVID-19-related deaths rose by 11, to 299, though Johns Hopkins University put the number at 304.
Kansas has reported an average of 474 new cases a day over the past seven days — its worst seven-day average during the pandemic. The number of reported cases in Kansas has grown by nearly 40% in two weeks, with 5,943 new cases confirmed.
USD 257 and other school districts will use the additional time to prepare plans for the next school year.
Schools are considering whether to offer in-person classes, distance learning programs or a combination of the two.
Fager said USD 257 likely would offer both in-person classes and distance learning opportunities, but it’s not yet clear what that might look like.
The delay also will give the district more time to collect sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment. Those items are in short supply, as the global pandemic has hit the United States especially hard. USD 257 has ordered additional supplies, but has faced delays and backorders.
It’s also not clear how the delayed opening will affect the school calendar. The state requires 1,116 hours of student instruction. Fager said he doesn’t know if the state will reduce that requirement, or if the district will need to find ways to make up the time.
“Those are all preliminary things we’ll hear more about, probably this week, and we’ll have conversations with our local teachers’ union.”
The state required local districts to appoint a committee of education, health care, parents and government representatives to develop an education plan unique to the community. That group was expected to meet today.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.