Kansas Board of Ed split, Gov. Kelly’s Labor Day order for schools fails

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TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Board of Education has failed to pass Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order keeping schools from opening until after Labor Day in a 5-5 vote. It needed a simple majority.

The close call came after board members were caught off guard by Kelly’s order on July 15. The governor’s office apologized for not informing the board of education first, but it wasn’t enough for some board members, who were not able to suggest any amendments.

The order would have applied to all schools, public and private, K-12, keeping them from opening until at least Sept. 8. Preschools would have been allowed to open earlier with the coordination of local health departments.

Will Lawrence, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said delaying the start would give more time to flatten the curve and gather necessary supplies. He argued that more kids are coming down with COVID-19, and while many don’t have severe symptoms, some end up with lasting complications.

Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, also advocated for delaying. He said Kansas is in an “exponential viral growth phase,” saying that the positivity rate is 11% in Kansas.

“I feel very strongly schools cannot be safe islands in an unsafe community,” Dr. Norman said.

However, board member Michelle Dombrosky, of Olathe, said she believes the decision should be made at a local level. She cited counties in western Kansas that have not been affected much by COVID-19, and she said less fortunate communities would suffer greatest from the delay.

Janet Waugh, Ann E. Mah, Kathy Busch, Jim Porter and Jim McNiece all voted for the order to pass. Steve Roberts, Michelle Dombrosky, Jean Clifford, Ben Jones and Deena Horst voted for the order to fail.

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