Kansas State Board of Education candidates on the issues: COVID-19 and in-person schooling

Kansas public school districts, including SMSD, are still ironing out the details for virtual, in-person and hybrid learning options for students amid COVID-19. (File photo.)

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of November’s general election. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for Kansas State Board of Education District 2.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item #1:

The debate over whether and how to allow in-person learning during the pandemic has dominated discussions ahead of the start of this school year. What factors should school district administrators be prioritizing when making decisions about bringing students back to the classroom?

Kansas State Board of Education District 2

Melanie Haas (Democrat)

I think the key part of this question is “prioritizing.” Yes, I acknowledge the tremendous burden that is placed on parents and caregivers when kids are not attending in-person classes. I also understand that kids miss out on a variety of critical services that schools provide, including counseling, food security, social interaction, physical exercise, creative outlets, and much more.

However, if we are not able to contain the spread of a pandemic in our community – and our community is unable or unwilling to prioritize stopping the transmission of the disease – then we must put the safety of our students and teachers above all else. This is what happens when our highest levels of leadership in our nation and state fail – we are all left to deal with the consequences and shoulder the burden.

So, we must listen to science and data when it comes to bringing kids back into school. I believe we should listen to public health professionals, not just doctors and pediatricians, but epidemiologists and those who have trained specifically for this type of community-spread viral scenario. We should learn from data collected across the country as other districts have reopened, too. I believe that a strong majority of constituents prefer caution to prematurely exposing our children and teachers to a virus that we still do not fully understand. Because of that, I will continue to urge our administrators to take their lead from public health officials and the governor’s leadership in Topeka.

Benjamin Hodge (Republican)

Did not respond.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item #2:

Describe the proper role of the state board of education in setting curriculum standards for the state’s schools. Is there a need for the curriculum to be more reflective and inclusive of groups that have been marginalized in the past?