Gov. Laura Kelly to issue order delaying first day of school until after Labor Day

Laura Kelly

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).

Saying that rising COVID-19 cases in the state pose a hurdle to safely reopening K-12 schools in August, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly this afternoon announced she was issuing a new executive order delaying the first day of school until after Labor Day.

“I can’t in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all-time high & continuing to rapidly rise,” she wrote on Twitter. “We can’t risk the lives of our teachers, administrators, custodians, our students & their parents.”

The order will be subject to an approval vote by the State Board of Education.

The per capita infection rate in Kansas remains well below that of hot spots like Arizona and Florida, but it has been trending upward in recent weeks. The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker shows Kansas’s per capita infection rate has risen by 9% over the past week to 15 positive cases per 100,000 residents. The rate of fatalities from COVID-19 in Kansas remains low, at .05 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Shawnee Mission had already pushed the first day of its school year back two days in an effort to provide time to train staff on COVID-19 safety protocols and remote teaching tools, and had promised patrons a detailed plan on how it would conduct operations for 2020-21 sometime this month. The Kansas State Board of Education met in Topeka this morning to review its Back to School plan for state public schools, including recommendations for screenings students and staff for COVID-19 infection, strategies for filling teaching spots if an instructor needs to quarantine or receive treatment for a period of weeks, and holding classes in non-school buildings to allow for required social distancing, among other topics.

Shawnee Mission released a draft of its own detailed reopening plans last week along with a call for input from families and staff.

But teachers throughout Johnson County and across the state have been raising concerns in recent days, saying that the safety measures being considered would likely be inadequate to prevent exposure to the virus among people with conditions that could make them vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 infection. Calls have grown on social media this week to delay the start of the school year in hopes of giving communities time to suppress the spread of the virus and improve conditions for schools to open.

“The additional three weeks will provide schools time to get masks, thermometers, hand sanitizer and other necessary COVID-19 mitigation supplies,” Kelly wrote on Twitter Wednesday.