School start to be delayed until Sept. 9 statewide, governor says

Positive COVID-19 cases have increased significantly recently in Kansas. (KDHE graphic)

Gov. Laura Kelly today said she would issue an executive order delaying the start of school until Sept. 9 throughout Kansas.

The state also will require masks to be worn in kindergarten through 12th grade schools throughout the state, she said.

In Kansas City, Kansas, Edwin Birch, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools stated, “We appreciate today’s announcement by Governor Laura Kelly to delay the reopening of schools until after Labor Day. The governor’s decision will allow KCKPS additional time to discuss and evaluate our proposed options for reopening school. We understand there will be additional questions related to what the delay will mean for our school district, we plan to provide those details in the coming days. The health and safety of our students, staff and their families will always remain a priority as we continue to review reopening options.”

Only kindergarten through grade 12 was covered by today’s announcement, not universities and colleges. Wyandotte County had earlier issued its own guidance for reopening schools on June 22.

Positive COVID-19 cases have increased in recent weeks in Kansas. There was an 8 percent increase in cases over the last weekend, the governor said at the news conference.

On Wednesday, the state reported 20,933 cases, an increase of 875 since Monday, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were also 11 more deaths from Monday to Wednesday, according to KDHE figures, for a total of 299 cumulative deaths.

Gov. Kelly said there had been an average 241 new coronavirus cases a day in the seven-day average period ending Monday, the worst seven-day average ever for Kansas.

The state flattened the curve before Memorial Day, but after that, political pressures forced the state to make the health orders voluntary. After Memorial Day, the numbers trended up as many counties decided to lift the orders.

Gov. Kelly said she had hoped when the she made the orders “guidance,” not mandatory, that county officials would step in and require the counties to stay in the reopening plan, and to require masks, but most counties did not do that.

Intensive care unit capacity in Lawrence and Wichita hospitals are under threat, and cases in the younger population continue to rise, Gov. Kelly said.

“We have lost nearly 300 Kansans,” Gov. Kelly said. “Can any of you imagine any other circumstance where friends and neighbors die from a single cause where we would not all jump into action to do our part?”

Some leaders have downplayed the virus and its effects, and they are now seeing the consequences, she said.

Kansas issued the mask order before the Fourth of July because they had seen what happened on the Memorial Day weekend, she said.

Gov. Kelly quoted Vice President Mike Pence’s statements that masks were “instruments of freedom if we use them.”

CDC officials have said COVID-19 could be controlled in one to two months if everyone did their part and wore masks, she said.

She thanked the counties and cities that have implemented the mask orders. Harvey and Reno counties changed course on Tuesday and implemented the mask order after a rise in cases, she added.

“I believe that real leaders aren’t afraid to confront crises head on. They don’t sit back silently and wait for the situation to get worse. That’s what I have done and will continue to do regardless of the political consequences,” Gov. Kelly said.

Gov. Kelly said she was issuing her executive orders because the state Board of Education’s plan approved earlier today is not mandatory, but guidance.

The extra three weeks, delaying opening of the schools, will allow schools time to prepare for supplies such as sanitizers and masks, according to the governor. It also will give time for the coronavirus to deline.

She said they can’t risk the lives of students, teachers, staff and parents by reopening too early.

The state Board of Education, according to the governor, has put together a plan allowing districts to choose whether to open schools in person, with distance learning, or with a hybrid of in person and distance learning. The state Board of Education must approve the governor’s school opening date.

Dr. Randy Watson, state education commissioner, said the state Board of Education today accepted a document that set out the plans for schools to reopen. Nearly 1,000 Kansans worked on the plan, he said.

“We need students in school, no one disputes that,” he said. “We have to do so with safety as our top priority.”

Education and health officials have worked on the state’s plan, he said. Each school district will make its own decision on reopening, and he will work with the districts on it, he added.

Masks, disinfection, sanitizing and training are all part of the plans for school reopening.

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, posted a message on social media: “The governor’s announcement to cancel school until September must be affirmed by the State School Board in accordance to the bill she just signed (HB2016). It is my hope when the board contemplates this decision, they take into consideration that one size doesn’t fit all. The legislature intended to pass these decisions on to local governing authorities, where teachers, parents and health care professionals all have a voice and can, in a collaborative manner, do what is best for their children and their community. “

Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health, said at the governor’s news conference that the White House categorized Kansas as a COVID-19 “red zone” on Tuesday, indicating that new cases were increasing rapidly.

Dr. Norman remarked that every week that residents don’t take COVID-19 seriously sets the state back 14 days, because the incubation period is two weeks. This weekend’s case numbers reflect actions taken on the Fourth of July, he said.

He said while they don’t fully understand the nature of the coronavirus, it is much more serious than the flu, and many people leave the hospital still facing serious issues. It affects more than the respiratory system, he added.

Since there are some incubation periods between now and Sept. 9, COVID-19 can be reduced and pushed down like the did before, according to Dr. Norman.

“We must wear masks, we must socially distance,” he said. If the state’s actions continue, the numbers will increase, it could break the hospital system, which is already somewhat strained, and there is no way they can return to school this fall if they continue this trajectory, he said.

“Decisions Kansans make in the weeks to come will determine whether we gain control of the spread or let the virus inevitably rage on,” he said.

“It is important as Kansans we acknowledge our actions as individuals impact our community and state. Just because you can do something like work when you are ill or attend a large gatherings, does not mean you should,” Dr. Norman said.

To view the governor’s news conference, visit https://www.facebook.com/GovLauraKelly/videos/277260523563415.

To see an earlier story on schools reopening, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/kckps-explores-options-for-reopening-schools-in-the-fall/

For more information on the state Board of Education’s school reopening guidance, visit https://www.ksde.org/Home/Quick-Links/News-Room/state-board-of-education-accepts-school-reopening-guidance-document-1.

Wyandotte County’s education reopening guidance for K-12 schools, from June 22, is online at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/ReStartWyCoK12EducationReopening.pdf.

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