Gov. Laura Kelly orders all K-12 schools closed to in-person education for remainder of school year

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday that the state would close all K-12 school buildings for in-person education through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. File photo.

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Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday announced the mandatory closure of all K-12 school buildings to in-person instruction through the rest of the 2019-20 school year, a move she said was necessary to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus here and “flatten the curve” in an effort to avoid overwhelming the health care system.

“The reality of this pandemic is that it cannot be controlled statewide if school buildings return to normal operations, or if they respond inconsistently in local communities,” Kelly said. “Unprecedented circumstances threaten the safety of our students and the professionals who work with them every day, and we must respond accordingly.”

Kelly said that state has assembled a task force that will release recommendations on a continuous learning plan for schools in Kansas tomorrow afternoon. She noted that while a remote approach will not replace the in-person experience students have, the goal is to “build a bridge back to world class learning our students benefit from today.”

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the task force was developing lesson plans and guidance for pre-K through high school “at the highest of academic standards.”

“We’re just getting started on what that transition will look like in this unprecedented time,” Watson said.

Kelly urged resident to be vigilant in preventing the transmission of the virus, encouraging them to wash their hands, cough into their sleeves, and maintain social distance.

“Coronavirus has caused massive disruption in all of our lives. As Kansans, we’ve always done whatever was necessary to protect our families and our communities, and this moment is no different. As governor, I will continue to do everything in our power to help ease the burden that these unavoidable steps will place on you and your families,” Kelly said. “Ad astra per aspera literally mean to the stars through difficulty. Our Kansas motto has never been more appropriate, and it is through our Kansas spirit that we will overcome this challenge and emerge even stronger as a state.”

The announcement comes a day after Johnson County Public Health Officer Joseph LeMaster, MD, ordered schools in the county to close through at least April 3. LeMaster said earlier today that the county and public school districts had been in contact with state officials about granting a waiver for the state-required minimum amount of class time districts must provide students. Because the new closure ordered by the governor applies to all schools in the state, Johnson County districts are now sure to be absolved of the requirement to provide a specific number of instructional minutes under state statute.

Shawnee Mission School District responds

The Shawnee Mission School District just sent the following message to district family’s regarding the governor’s decision:

JOCO superintendents support the Governor’s order to close schools through the end of the school year.

In order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Kansas, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly ordered all public schools in Kansas to remain closed through the end of the school year.

“The steps we’re announcing today will create the space we need at the state level, to develop a more strategic resilient infrastructure, so that we can get ahead of this threat and limit its long-term impact,” Governor Kelly noted.

Dr. Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education, joined the Governor for the announcement, and noted that top educators from around the state are already working on how to provide educational resources for students, and schools districts are planning for how to ensure that students can continue to receive breakfast and lunch while schools are closed.

“We have entered into a new reality,” said Dr. Mike Fulton, superintendent of schools, “and it requires all of us working together in support of our community.”

“Moving forward, we will provide our community with regular updates on our plans as they develop,” Dr. Fulton noted. “I would ask that we allow each other a measure of grace, as we develop plans for what school looks like in the weeks ahead. We are a uniquely gifted community, and we must use our many talents and strengths to support one another.”

“Now, more than ever,” he said, “we must work together for the benefit of our children and our community.”