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Most Metro Kansas School Districts Won't Open Until After Labor Day

Empty desks sit in rows and columns in an empty classroom
Feliphe Schiarolli
The decision to delay in-person classes means most students will be in school through June 10.

At least in coronavirus hotspots like Wyandotte and Johnson counties, it’s starting to seem like Gov. Laura Kelly will get her way.

Many metro Kansas school districts won’t open until after Labor Day, even though the state board rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to delay the first day of school.

Kelly wanted to give school more time to enact safety measures and acquire PPE, but the state board was split on whether that was necessary in all districts.

But at least in coronavirus hotspots like Wyandotte and Johnson counties, it’s starting to seem like Kelly will get her way. On Monday, the chief medical officer of Wyandotte County ordered all public school buildings closed until Tuesday, Sept. 7.

“The decision to prohibit schools from opening to in-person classes until after Sept. 7 was not made lightly, as we know that in-person socialization plays an important role in the longer-term positive health impacts on individuals and our community as a whole,” Allen Greiner said in a statement. “This order was issued to protect our children, young adults, teachers, and those populations most vulnerable to COVID-19 in Wyandotte County.”

The order allows distance learning before Labor Day, but even before Greiner’s order, the biggest of the four Wyandotte County school districts had pushed its first day back. Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools students will spend at least nine weeks learning online.

In Johnson County, where the five school superintendents expressed their support for Kelly’s failed executive order, Blue Valley, De Soto, Shawnee Mission and Olathe will reopen after Labor Day.

Before the Shawnee Mission school board voted on the calendar changes Monday, Superintendent Mike Fulton explained that districts are still waiting for guidance from the Johnson County Health Department on how to reopen, known as “gating criteria.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends waiting until cases have declined for 14 consecutive days before beginning a phased reopening.

Fulton said parents keep asking whether the first day of school will be in-person or remote, but there’s no way to know how many coronavirus cases Johnson County will have in early September.

“That’s going to be the ongoing challenge of this pandemic,” Fulton said. “I think we’re going to have peaks and valleys. That data will dictate what’s possible and what isn’t in terms of in-class learning.”

Delaying the first day of school until Sept. 8 means most students will be in school through June 10. First semester won’t end until after winter break, and spring break is now in early April. The new calendar doesn’t leave much wiggle room for seniors, who are scheduled to graduate the first week in June. By statute, all Kansas students need to be in class for 1,116 hours, and only the legislature can waive that requirement.

Fulton said that students who enroll in online learning next year will also be expected to log all 1,116 hours.

“So this is going to look much more like school than perhaps what we were able to do last spring when we had to quickly build a remote learning model for all students,” Fulton said.

Elsewhere in Kansas, other districts are also delaying the start of school. The Lawrence Public Schools will open Sept. 8 with six weeks of virtual learning, and Dodge City is expected to push back its first day of school as well.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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