Gov. Kelly closes Kansas schools for rest of aca­demic year

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN SHORMAN [email protected]­chi­taea­

Gov. Laura Kelly or­dered K-12 schools closed for the rest of the aca­demic year Tues­day as the state con­tin­ued to es­ca­late its re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus – a de­ci­sion that will lead to mas­sive up­heaval for thou­sands of stu­dents and their fam­i­lies.

“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 at a late af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence. “Un­prece­dented cir­cum­stances threaten the safety of our stu­dents and the pro­fes­sion­als who work with them ev­ery day.”

Kelly and top ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials vowed to con­tinue the task of ed­u­cat­ing the state’s children, though they ac­knowl­edged they’re now in a sit­u­a­tion with­out prece­dent. A task force of ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts is de­vel­op­ing a plan for the months ahead, and will present their rec­om­men­da­tions Wed­nes­day, the gover­nor said.

Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Randy Wat­son said the panel was work­ing to pro­duce les­son plans and other guid­ance for schools “on how we may have some sem­blance of learn­ing go­ing on in th­ese times.”

“Clos­ing class­rooms and

moving to this con­tin­u­ous learn­ing plan … can in no way repli­cate the great learn­ing that goes on in our world-class schools,” Wat­son said.

Dis­tricts across the state moved swiftly fol­low­ing Kelly’s an­nounce­ment to reach par­ents and stu­dents. In an email to par­ents, Wi­chita Pub­lic Schools said it “is im­por­tant for you to un­der­stand that while school will look dif­fer­ent, learn­ing will con­tinue in some form.”

Wi­chita school board Pres­i­dent Sheril Lo­gan said the district — the state’s largest with 50,000 stu­dents — had ex­pected an ex­ec­u­tive or­der would close schools for some pe­riod of time.

But she said the clo­sure for the rest of the year went be­yond what the district has planned for.

“Ob­vi­ously we will do what the gover­nor has asked us to do,” Lo­gan said. “The ad­min­is­tra­tive team is work­ing as we speak to put to­gether the plan for how we help con­tinue ed­u­ca­tion and how we pro­vide food and an­swer peo­ple’s ques­tions.

“There’s still a lot of un­knowns.”

It ap­peared likely that some stu­dents will go at least sev­eral weeks with­out for­mal in­struc­tion. God­dard Pub­lic Schools said in a state­ment that it does not plan to pro­vide any type of in­struc­tion prior to March 30.

Other crit­i­cal ques­tions – such as how high school se­niors would grad­u­ate and what ser­vices would be avail­able to at-risk stu­dents – didn’t ap­pear to have im­me­di­ate an­swers. Wat­son said “our first in­ten­tion” is to en­sure stu­dents grad­u­ate on time.

“One of the ma­jor con­cerns are stu­dents of poverty, stu­dents of dis­abil­ity, stu­dents of color that do not have equal ac­cess” to all kinds of learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments out­side school, Wat­son said.

Wat­son said the Kansas State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has ob­tained per­mis­sion to al­low dis­tricts to con­tinue of­fer­ing break­fast and lunch to any com­mu­nity that ap­plies for a waiver.

Kelly also an­nounced that be­gin­ning on Mon­day, most state em­ploy­ees would be put on paid leave for two weeks in an ef­fort to help con­tain the spread of the virus.

Kelly’s an­nounce­ment came on the same day an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning gatherings of more than 50 went into ef­fect. Fed­eral health au­thor­i­ties have gone even fur­ther, rec­om­mend­ing peo­ple avoid groups of more than 10.

Tues­day’s de­ci­sion to end the school year early came af­ter Kelly on Sun­day ad­vised dis­tricts to shut for a week while of­fi­cials de­vel­oped a re­sponse plan. The Leg­is­la­ture was also rapidly ad­vanc­ing a bill al­low­ing the state board of ed­u­ca­tion to waive re­quire­ments for how long the school year must last.

In Mis­souri, the state De­part­ment of Ele­men­tary and Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion has re­ported that 435 of the state’s 555 lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion agen­cies, which in­cludes pub­lic school dis­tricts and char­ter schools, have closed or will soon close. But most of those are tem­po­rary clo­sures, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity as of Tues­day of those dis­tricts re­open­ing in late March or early April.

On the Mis­souri side of the Kansas City metro area, dis­tricts that have an­nounced tem­po­rary clo­sures in­clude Park Hill, North Kansas City, Kansas City Pub­lic Schools, Lib­erty, Lee’s Sum­mit, Platte County R-III, Grand­view and In­de­pen­dence.

CHARLIE RIEDEL The As­so­ci­ated Press

Gov. Laura Kelly, seen here at at her State of the State ad­dress, has or­dered schools in Kansas to close.

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