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Kansas Governor Pushes for Schools to Open After Labor Day to Slow Coronavirus Spread

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says superintendents need more time to implement a 1,100-page health and safety guide before reopening schools. (Photo by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Kansas News Service)

Story by Elle Moxley, KCUR

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly wants to push the start of K-12 school until after Labor Day in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Kelly’s announcement Wednesday came hours after the State Board of Education approved guidelines for reopening schools, and she said districts need time to act on recommendations.

“The additional three weeks will provide schools time to work with their counties to get the necessary mitigation supplies like masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer,” she said.

Kelly plans to issue an executive order on Monday that would delay the start of school until Sept. 9, but the Kansas State Board of Education will have to approve it. The State Finance Council can review Kelly’s executive order but cannot revoke it. That power lies only with the full Legislature through a concurrent resolution.

Kelly said she is frustrated because the number of new coronavirus cases continues to climb, with the state reporting more than 2,000 new cases since last Friday and more than 20,000 overall.

“I told every Kansan when I issued the mandate that I believed masks are the best tool we have, along with social distancing, avoiding mass gatherings and good hygiene, to keep our economy open and to keep each other safe,” Kelly said.

About a month into the pandemic, Kelly and the GOP-majority State Finance Council had contentious fights over executive orders on whether churches could be singled out in the statewide stay-at-home mandate.

Eventually, lawmakers and the governor compromised, which led to Kansas' reopening plan and mask ordinance becoming recommendations for local governments instead of mandates.

Kelly believes that by delaying the start of school, Kansas will have more time to get the infection curve under control before students and teachers head back to class.

But Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said that won’t happen if Kansans don’t change their behavior. He said it’ll be another week before the state knows the full effect of mass gatherings over the Fourth of July holiday.

“Because of how infectious COVID-19 is, every week we don’t take the virus seriously sets the state back two weeks at a minimum,” Norman said.

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