Start of school in Kansas delayed until after Labor Day, Gov. Kelly says

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly says schools in Kansas won’t start until after Labor Day. 

She said too many health guidelines are being ignored and believes it would be irresponsible to rush in reopening schools.

The order only affects K-12 schools, not higher education — but it will also affect the start of school activities and athletics. 

The Democratic governor plans to issue an executive order on Monday when she will provide more details. The Kansas State Board of Education would need to approve the measure to then officially delay school’s starting date.

Kelly ordered all K-12 buildings closed in mid-March for the rest of the spring semester to check the spread of coronavirus, and received some criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature for acting so quickly. 

On Wednesday, the Kansas State Board of Education voted unanimously to sign-off on the “Navigating Change” plan for Kansas schools.

It does not mandate anything, but gives local districts a guidebook on how to keep students and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know how vitally important it is that kids are able to continue to learn in a safe environment, but most kids learn best when they are actually in a classroom,” said Ashley Goss, deputy secretary of public health with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Schools will adapt rules based on how COVID-19 cases are trending and work with local health departments to determine if they will not need strict, moderate or high levels of restrictions.

“That’s where districts would need to look at what makes the most sense in their community,” said Dr. Frank Harwood, DeSoto Schools superintendent.

The board’s guidelines call for teachers and staff to wear masks inside and suggests all students be told to wear them if they’re in middle or high school.

It recommends hourly hand-washing, daily temperature checks for all staff, and limiting visitors and the movement of students. The guidelines also say all students should be observed daily for signs of illness.

The roughly 1,100 pages of recommendations cover not only issues such as masks but others dealing with instruction and measuring students’ progress when some classes are online.

Districts are also beefing up online learning programs and working to accommodate teachers who aren’t comfortable coming back to the classroom yet.

Now, Kelly is giving schools more time to get ready for all the changes.

“I cannot in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all time high and continually rising, putting nearly a half-million kids in daily large gatherings, which is the exact opposite of what health experts urge us to do,” Kelly said Wednesday.

Many local districts are already buying up more cleaning supplies, safety barriers and extra technology to support families who choose remote learning.

Now schools will have more time to train staff, students and families on all the new things they can expect when school starts in September.

Kelly’s delay on the start of school comes after a spike in reported coronavirus cases deemed “awful” by Dr. Lee Norman, the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

His agency reported Wednesday that Kansas has confirmed 20,993 cases, up 935 or 4.8%, since Monday. The number of reported COVID-19-related deaths jumped by 11 to 299.

Kansas has reported an average of 482 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 40% in two weeks, with 6,003 new cases confirmed.

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