TOPEKA, Kan. — For many Kansans, ‘back to school’ has become a stressful time, and the same can be said for Kansas educators.
As school districts finalize their plans for this fall, educators are putting in extra work to make sure their students are safe, while also making sure they stay on-track.
Lindsay Buck is a special education teacher in Lawrence. She says educators are first and foremost concerned for their student’s health and well-being.
“Everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have and that changes so quickly,” she explained.
Buck was joined by fellow Kansas educators on a Zoom meeting to discuss the reopening of schools with Gov. Laura Kelly.
Topics brought up by the educators included the need for personal protective equipment for students and staff, special education resources and school sports.
“That’s a big concern for some of our student athletes,” Jamila Harris-Smith, School Counselor for Kansas City Public Schools.
Harris-Smith told the governor that many student athletes are concerned about their scholarship opportunities if they cannot play sports due to the coronavirus. Kelly said she is hopeful that the Kansas State High School Activities Association will continue to discuss options for school sports.
“What about switching sports and bringing the spring sports into the fall,” the governor said. “Because those tend to be more solitary sports — like your golf and your tennis and your cross country — and then let’s push off some of the more contact sports — whether it’s your basketball or your football — to the Spring.”
Teachers also brought up mental health concerns with the governor.
“Not only for our students or our families, but for our staff members,” explained Aaron Edwards, a band teacher in Lansing. “Our anxiety is high. The unknowns are taking a toll.”
Kelly says her administration is very aware that mental health issues are spiking in the state. She added they are still coming up with a plan to help people, but will continue to push for mental health services.
“You guys are operating under very stressful situations,” Kelly told the teachers. “I’m going to be talking with my Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services…let me see what is happening and what more might happen.”
Many of the teachers present on the Zoom meeting, thanked the governor for her work to keep students and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want to thank you for the work the state has done, you yourself have done. Your words have been very encouraging, not only for me but for my counterparts,” Gilbert Perea, a special education teacher in Garden City, told the governor.
Kelly told the teachers that she is committed to funding schools and supporting educators both right now and after the pandemic ends.
“So that you can do the jobs that you’re trained and hired to do and we can provide the support systems in there to make it possible for you,” she added.
Of course, not everyone is praising the governor.
Twenty-two Kansas lawmakers asked Attorney General Derek Schmidt for his legal opinion on Kansas school boards’ ability to set coronavirus-related rules.
In Schmidt’s response, he said local school boards can choose to not follow mandates put in place by both state and county officials.
For example, if a county mandates that schools require students and staff to wear face masks, the school board could vote to overrule that mandate. School boards could also be more strict in their rules than what is required by the county or state.
Both Kelly and KDHE Secretary Lee Norman are urging Kansas school boards to follow health and safety guidelines put out by health officials. Kelly said that includes wearing masks in school.
Buck said she, and other educators, want to keep students and staff healthy and that means following health guidance from the experts.
“I want to be sure that our schools and our staff and our students are safe in every phase of reopening,” Buck said. “I definitely think that Governor Kelly and her administration are keeping that at the forefront.”
The governor also encouraged educators to remind the parents and families of students to complete their 2020 Census. She said this not only helps the state get federal funding for schools but also determines the amount of representation for Kansas in the U.S. House and Senate.
To watch the full meeting with Kansas educators and Kelly, who was joined by Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, click here.