A delay in the starting date for reopening of schools is a decision based in reason and science. Isn’t that refreshing?

Mostly we’ve been seeing demands to open schools immediately with no consideration of the possible consequences. Take for example, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. They have threatened to cut off aid to schools that don’t open immediately for face-to-face instruction for all students. On the other side, there are school employees and parents who are rightfully frightened about returning to school without having control of the virus and fully implementing protective procedures for children and staff.

This is precisely why our position has been to plan for HOW to reopen and leave the decision on WHEN to reopen in the hands of the medical professionals at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The decision to reopen or remain closed must not and cannot be a political decision based on whether or not one will get more or fewer votes at the polls.

We fully support the Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order (EO) delaying the start of the school year until after Labor Day. Let’s make this clear: This is NOT an order to close schools. This is an order that will let schools thoroughly prepare while the rest of the state works collectively to bring the alarming spike in COVID-19 infections under control. We firmly believe – and Dr. Lee Norman, KDHE Secretary, agrees – that if we all follow the recommendations on wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and personal hygiene, we can turn the infection rate around. Kansas did that rapidly in late March and April. In a matter of a few weeks, we had turned the corner only to lose control when too many of us thought the virus was behind us.

On Wednesday, the Kansas State Board of Education released their guidance to school districts on reopening during a pandemic. Hundreds of Kansans, including many Kansas NEA members, were involved in writing this guidance and the document is an excellent resource for planning. Under the leadership of Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson, this task force has prepared guidance for use by school districts to effectively plan for a safe reopening of their schools based on their community and local conditions. 

The guidance is not a prescription for how to open, it is a planning guide with many options and considerations for schools to think about. Unfortunately, with the usual August opening of the school year only a few weeks away, there is not adequate time to thoroughly review, debate, and consider the best manner of reopening for each school district. By delaying the start of school, districts will have adequate time to plan and include staff, students, parents, community members, and business leaders in the process. It is imperative we assure our communities we have adequately planned for every possibility and schools will be as safe as can possibly be guaranteed. The whole community must have confidence in the school’s ability to open, be safe, and stay open.

Not only will this delay allow for effective planning, it will provide the opportunity for districts to provide staff members with appropriate professional development to implement the plan. We must be sure all staff understand the district’s reopening plan and what each individual’s role in the implementation will be. This will inspire confidence in both the school staff and the parents whose children are in their care. Additionally, smooth implementation assures students that schools are ready for them.

The numbers of COVID-19 infections in Kansas are growing at an alarming rate. The state has now adopted new measures to contain the spread and many communities are again enacting restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses to help contain the virus. In some Kansas communities, businesses have voluntarily returned to earlier restrictions in an effort to help. Unfortunately, these measures have not been in place long enough yet to turn the corner on the spread of the virus. We applaud the members of the business community who are joining in this fight even though they are already struggling with the economic impact of closures and reduced traffic. What those businesses need is for all of us to do our part to turn the numbers around. When we do that, schools can reopen, businesses can reopen and most importantly, BOTH SCHOOLS AND BUSINESSES CAN STAY OPEN.

The delay in the start of the school year will hopefully give us time to stem the growth of infections, set us on a path to recovery, and let schools stay open.

If Kansas can do all three of these things – rigorously plan for reopening, train the school personnel in implementation of those plans, and regain control of the spread of the virus – the chances schools can reopen and stay open increase. This is critically important for the well-being and education of our children, for the health of all citizens, and for businesses that can begin to bring workers back into the economy. 

We have no desire to set ourselves and our communities on a roller coaster of openings and closings. That is not good for education, it is not good for working men and women, and it is not good for business. 

We want to do this right and this delay is an opportunity to make things work. 

But it’s not a done deal – CALL TO ACTION

Under legislation passed during the special legislative session in early June, an executive order to close schools or delay the opening is subject to approval by the members of the Kansas State Board of Education.

Governor Kelly will sign the order this Monday, July 20. Sometime next week, the state board members will discuss the order and vote on whether to approve it.

It is important to understand this delay is supported not only by the Kansas NEA but also by the AFT-Kansas, the Kansas Association of School Boards, and United School Administrators-Kansas. We all agree this is the right choice at this time. We are hopeful the state board of education will approve the Governor’s executive order.

To that end, we urge all Kansans who want to see schools open safely for our children, our teachers and administrators, our support personnel, and our communities to contact their state board of education member (members’ email addresses and phone numbers below the map) and urge him or her to support Governor Kelly’s executive order to delay the start of the school year until after Labor Day.

Kansas State Board of Education Members’ Contact Information

District 1: Janet Waugh, Vice Chair (Kansas City, Kansas) jwaugh@ksde.org 913-620-5062

District 2: Steve Roberts (Overland Park) sroberts@ksde.org 913-302-8185

District 3: Michelle Dombrosky (Olathe) mdombrosky@ksde.org 913-782-1835

District 4: Ann Mah (Topeka) amah@ksde.org 785-231-0823

District 5: Jean Clifford (Garden City) jclifford@ksde.org 620-275-4317

District 6: Deena Horst (Salina) dhorst@ksde.org 785-827-8540

District 7: Ben Jones (Sterling) bjones@ksde.org 620-278-6063

District 8: Kathy Busch, Chair (Wichita) kbusch@ksde.org 316-682-5718

District 9: Jim Porter (Fredonia) jporter@ksde.org 316-617-6779

District 10: Jim McNiece (Wichita) jmcniece@ksde.org 316-729-9742