Governor shutters schools for school year, Hamm gives more info

File Photo by Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal

By Adam Strunk

All Kansas Schools, public and parochial, will be shuttered for the remainder of the school year.

The move affects some half million students in Kansas, as well as their parents.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced the action Tuesday afternoon, after consulting with education commissioner Randy Watson and the Kansas Association of School Boards.

“Unprecedented circumstances threaten the safety of our students and the education professionals who work with them every day and we must respond accordingly,” she said.

Administrative buildings may be open for limited functions. After sanitization, small groups of people may use buildings to help plan for continuing education she said.

Kelly said she understood many would have questions and that local superintendents had been briefed on the matter and would be putting out information in the next 24 hours and could answer questions.

“The steps we’re announcing today will create the space we need at the state level to develop a strategic, more resilient infrastructure so that we can get ahead of this threat and limit its long-term impact.”

The Newton school district released a statement shortly after and Superintendent Deb Hamm also returned a request for comment.
“Throughout the week, the district leadership will be communicating with the state and looking into multiple options to continue education if possible. USD-373 is also figuring out a way to get school lunches to students during this closure,” Hamm said. “District officials will send frequent updates out to parents, staff and the public.”

Hamm said that her hope, although she’d yet to start meeting and planning with educators, is the district would provide small group learning opportunities, online learning and virtual mentoring and instruction for students. She said the district having computers for all the high school students would help this along. The district also has experience educating online.

She said she had an amazing team of educators that would help with the planning.
Hamm said the district would begin providing breakfast and lunches for students on Monday, March 23.

“We don’t know what that looks like yet, but that information will be coming out shortly,” she said.
The district will have a Facebook Live session to answer questions March 18, around 9 a.m.

At the press conference today, Gov. Kelly said that the task force of top education professionals she formed has been working on plans to continue students’ education outside of school, provide meals and provide child care for first responders among other issues.

Randy Watson Kansas Education Commissioner spoke on the task force.
He said the task force was using the expert knowledge to come up with plans and learning environments appropriate for pre-K to high school at the highest standards.
He said the plans no way will replicate the learning going on in Kansas schools, but it would provide a bridge in difficult times to bring students back to when times are normal.

At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the task force was to produce a report on the plan going forward.
He asked for the people of Kansas’ support during the time of transition.

Watson said the state would make sure to provide access to education and other services to low income populations that might not have regular food or internet access.
He also said that the state hopes to have current seniors complete their education as normal.
“We’re going to make sure to ask school boards to look at requirements of graduation relative to the state,” he said. “Our first intention will be to make sure all students graduate on time.”

Hamm reiterated the point.
“One of the things we’ll be looking at starting tomorrow is how many of our senior students already have 21 credits and what we need to do to get them to 21 hours,” she said, adding that students would graduate, though whether a ceremony would happen remains to be determined.

At the press conference, Kelly said that the state will also have government employees, employed through her executive branch go home for two weeks with paid administrative leave.
She said that all education employees and state employees will be paid.

Kelly brought her talking to a close with a message to Kansans.

“Ad astra per aspera literally means to the stars through difficulty,” she said. “Our Kansas motto has never been more appropriate and it’s through this Kansas spirit that we will overcome this challenge and come out stronger as a state.”

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