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