Gov. Laura Kelly mandates masks in Kansas schools, awaits board’s vote on start of classes
TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH/WIBW) - Gov. Laura Kelly released more details Monday on the executive orders she has signed and plans to sign regarding schools reopening for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We can’t afford to let those kids go in, get it and carry it home to their families,” Governor Kelly said.
Exceptions include while eating or drinking, activities that cannot be safely conducted with a mask or face covering, children who are not students or are under five years old, the deaf or hard of hearing or those communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, or for someone whose job would be compromised by wearing a mask.
Schools will be mandated to enforce six-feet of social distancing, except for in-person classroom instruction where face coverings are worn. Hand sanitizers must be available in all classrooms and teachers must sanitize their hands no less than once every hour.
Anyone entering the school building would have their temperature checked. When questioned how this would take place in districts in high schools with more than a thousand students, the governor said schools could use multiple entrances to enforce the rule.
This order does not need the approval of the Kansas Board of Education.
The governor said she will sign E.O. 20-58, the executive order to delay the start of classes, after the KSBOE votes on the measure later this week. She said the order would delay schools from doing any student instruction, including athletics or any other extracurricular activities, from August 10 to Sept. 8 (after Labor Day). Exclusions would include enrollment for the 2020-2021 school years, screenings to determine placements for students and instruction for students concurrently enrolled in college courses.
“The additional three weeks will allow schools times to work with their counties to get the necessary mitigation supplies like masks, hand sanitizers and will give superintendents to thoroughly review the navigating change plan from the state board of education to figure out what strategy is best for their district,” said the governor.
The governor said the extra three weeks will also all state health officials time to monitor the infection rate and with everyone’s help, get the numbers trending down.
The KSBOE said it plans to meet on the issue Wednesday and will hold a 24-hour public comment period following the release of the governor’s executive order.
Senate President Susan Wagle released a statement urging the state board to vote down the Governor’s order.
Wagle reiterated what she said last week saying, “The legislature intended to pass these decisions on to local governing authorities, where teachers, parents and health care professionals all have a voice and can do what is best for their children and their community.”
Governor Laura Kelly will sign two executive orders Monday related to the upcoming school year. The governor will hold a press conference on the orders at 4 p.m. in Topeka. Watch the news conference HERE.
The first order pushes the start of public schools until after Labor Day. Her hope is that Kansas will have three more weeks to see a decrease in the COVID-19 and the effects of a statewide mask order. It also gives school districts extra time to buy necessary supplies to safely reopen schools.
The second order will make recommendations approved by the Kansas Board of Education mandatory guidelines that all school districts must follow.
Last week, the governor said this will include things like mask requirements, sanitizing, and temperature checks.
In June, the Kansas legislature voted to limit the governor’s emergency powers, including her ability to close schools. Therefore, these two orders must be approved by the state board of education.
Senate President Susan Wagle wants the board to reject the orders, saying, “It is my hope when the board contemplates this decision. They are taking into consideration that one size doesn’t fit all.”
As of Friday, at least seven of the board’s ten members said they were undecided on how to vote.
Eyewitness News is reaching out to board members again today. Most of said they are weighing the public health risk while considering guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics - which recommends students go back to class. The members said they were also waiting to see the text of the governor’s order and hear from superintendents.
The KSBOE is planning to meet about the governor’s orders on Wednesday. A 24-hour public comment period will be held once the executive orders are released.
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