Kelly thanks Kansas teachers for work on reopening plans despite virus uncertainty

By: - August 26, 2020 6:33 am

Gov. Laura Kelly met with teachers from across Kansas to discuss how schools are preparing for the fall school year (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Linda Sieck is uncertain about the feasibility of maintaining social distance in a cramped classroom when her students return to class this fall.

Linda Sieck, president of National Education Association of Shawnee Mission, said on Tuesday she had heard from some sources, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, that only three feet of distance are necessary between students as long as they wear proper face coverings. Locally, however, she has been told six feet is the optimal amount.

“I will be going back to a class with up to 15 high school students in my classroom, so I really want to know if three feet is acceptable or only acceptable because we have finite space,” Sieck said.

Sieck was among the representatives from school districts across Kansas who joined Gov. Laura Kelly and health experts to discuss school reopening plans and what resources are still needed in elementary, middle and high school classrooms as students return.

Kelly expressed gratitude for the teacher’s flexibility when she shut down the K-12 school year in March and for their diligence in planning for the fall.

“I know a number of you have been working over the summer to prepare for the reopening of schools in whatever shape or form that takes,” Kelly said. “It’s a very impressive end product.”

In July, Kelly issued an executive order which would have postponed the school year from mid-August until after Labor Day. Though the order was swiftly rejected by the Kansas State Board of Education, many districts pushed back reopening to September anyway, said Kansas NEA president Mark Farr.

“As we return to school, we are worried about the children’s health, but also the adults, like teachers at school and the parents the children come home to,” said Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System.

“We need to continue to have as low of an amount of density as possible and wear masks,” he said. “Doing those things on a regular basis has been shown to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Kelly and the teachers also discussed child care. Some districts had options for teachers who didn’t have access to care for their own children, but few districts had the ability to provide care for children of all working parents.

Rural teachers expressed some concerns over internet access for remote students. Students in the Fowler school district in Southwest Kansas are returning to class this week, but a few families expressed discomfort with sending their children back in-person.

Emily Dizmang, president of the Fowler Teachers Association, said they were able to provide a remote option in the spring, with mixed results. They are unsure how well it will hold up.

“We had lots of kids that couldn’t connect back in March,” Dizmang said. “Right now, we have routers set up, but we don’t get very good service.”

Despite concerns over the uncertain nature of the virus and some infrastructural issues, teachers across the board expressed optimism with the plans put in place and the efforts taken.

“We feel we’ve done everything we possibly can to be safe,” Dizmang said. “We’ve changed recess, classroom and lunchroom procedures. We’ve done everything I can think of to make it safe for our children.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.