Kansas governor ‘strongly recommends’ K-12 schools close this week as coronavirus response ratchets up

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said at a press conference Sunday that she's looking to have a panel of K-12 educators think about contingency plans as the new coronavirus spreads. Photo credit Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service.

Kansas state officials “strongly recommended” on Sunday that all K-12 schools close for the coming week, and said they’re looking at the potential of finishing the school year online.

The temporary closure will “give educators time to make plans for the safest learning environment possible,” Gov. Laura Kelly said during a news conference, though she acknowledged it’ll be difficult to feed students and provide child care.

The move comes as the state’s total confirmed cases ticked up to eight over the weekend. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also issued new guidance about who should be in a 14-day home quarantine, though the secretary stressed that health officials will notify people who have been in “close contact” with someone who has a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Already, health departments have ordered public schools in Douglas, Franklin and Shawnee counties to close for two weeks, and Riley County’s department ordered Manhattan to close through at least the end of March.

Kelly also said she doesn’t think it’s necessary to shutter all schools through the end of the semester, which is why she didn’t order them closed right now.

But she does plan to put together Kelly a team of educators who will help the state form a plan moving forward, with one area of focus being how to finish the school year online — a challenge for both rural areas of the state that lack high-speed internet and districts that can’t provide their students personal laptops.

The task force, which is expected to release its recommendations this week, will also look at how to provide internet access, mental health services and at-home learning resources for students.

“We will ensure that (teachers) have the time to plan without students in the classroom,” Kelly said, “so when classes do resume, parents can be assured that their children will continue to receive the same high-quality, world-class education that Kansas is known for.”

Before Kelly spoke, the state Department of Education tweeted out the recommended weeklong closure. In a series of tweets, the agency said “it’s critical that we all follow a coordinated response to this situation.”

Last week, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson was given the power to help schools who were ordered closed by health officials. In those cases, districts have three options: Make up the time before June 30, move to e-learning or request a waiver from Watson so they don’t have to make up the days. If a district chooses to close voluntarily, it must make up the days.

But Kelly said Sunday that she doesn’t think students will have to make up this week’s missed days.

Staying at home

KDHE also issued new guidance about who should stay at home for 14 days if they’ve traveled to a number of places. The full list for 14-day home quarantine includes:

  • State with known widespread community transmission (currently California, New York and Washington state) on or after March 15.
  • Visited Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in Colorado within the past week.
  • Traveled on a cruise ship on or after March 15 (people who have previously been told to quarantine because of their cruise ship travel should finish out their quarantine).
  • Traveled internationally on or after March 15 (people who have previously been told to quarantine because of their international travel should finish out their quarantine).

“We know there are a lot of questions and concerns from people,” KDHE Secretary Lee Norman in a news release. “One thing we want to stress is that having contact with someone who may have been exposed to someone who may be a COVID-19 case is not a reason to worry or quarantine yourself. Public health officials will notify you if you are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19.”

The state identifed three new cases over the weekend: two in Johnson County and one in Franklin County, south of Lawrence.

State officials say home quarantine means avoiding places where staying six feet away from other people is impossible. Travelers don’t need to update health care providers unless they develop coronavirus symptoms of a cough, fever or trouble breathing.

COVID-19 usually causes mild to moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough. Most people with mild symptoms recover in two weeks. More severe cases, found in older adults and people with health issues, can have up to six weeks’ recovery time.

Daniel Caudill is a Statehouse intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @byDanielCaudill. Erica Hunzinger is the news editor for the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.

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