TOPEKA – Hours after the Kansas Board of Education released its guidelines for reopening schools during the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Laura Kelly said she is issuing an executive order to delay the opening of Kansas schools until after the Labor Day holiday.
“The additional three weeks will provide schools time to get masks, thermometers, hand sanitizer and other necessary COVID-19 mitigation supplies,” Kelly said Wednesday in a news conference at the state Capitol. “I can’t in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all-time high and continuing to rapidly rise. We can’t risk the lives of our teachers, administrators, custodians, our students and their parents.”
Kelly said she couldn’t afford to let schools reopen with the coronavirus spreading throughout the community. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported an increase of 875 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in its first update since Monday to push the statewide total to 20,933 since the outbreak started.
“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,” Kelly said. “That’s what I have done and will continue to do, regardless of the political consequences.”
Kelly said she knows her action will be criticized, but she said her decision was guided by public health experts and science.
“Every action I have taken throughout this pandemic has been done with three things in mind,” Kelly said. “Keeping Kansans healthy, keeping our state, open for business, and getting our kids back to school.
“Public health experts have been clear that large gatherings of people in indoor spaces is the quickest way for this virus to spread by opening schools, even with mitigation efforts in place, we are all assuring that cases will continue to rise. Every parent listening knows what it’s like when they drop their kids off for the first time in kindergarten kids who bring in drugs, who parents spend a year, fighting off their kid.”
Kansas National Education Association president Mark Farr said his organization supports Kelly’s decision.
“We are unwavering in our belief that students, educators, and the patrons in our schools should be ensured a safe teaching and learning environment free from significant risk of serious illness and threat to life,” Farr said.
“This means schools should reopen only when it is safe to do so according to the medical experts at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment who are guiding Gov. Laura Kelly’s thoughtful and collaborative response to this crisis. The governor has pledged that her decisions will be made without concern for political gain and solely in the best interest of the health and well-being of Kansans and we will do everything to assist in upholding that standard.”