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Gov. Laura Kelly took a lot of heat for closing Kansas schools for the school year, but she made the right call.
Days of careful consultation led the governor to the conclusion that uncertainty was a serious hurdle for an educational system needing to move forward. The decision to close school buildings and move instruction online allowed schools to commit to a path forward.
The decision was also the right call from a public health standpoint, to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by eliminating a massive source of transmission between families. Students returning from spring break travel had the potential to quickly spread the virus through Kansas schools.
Closing school buildings was an important part of flattening the curve in the state, or reducing the number of cases to allow the health care system to adequately respond.
"The reality of this pandemic is that it cannot be controlled statewide if school buildings return to normal operations," said Kelly in her statement.
The decision, which made Kansas the first in the nation to close schools for the duration of the school year, was not without consequences. Students, particularly high school seniors, were forced to cope with the loss of their school year. Schoolteachers and administrators scrambled to switch to virtual classrooms. Parents struggled to manage job, child care and educational obligations.
The alternative was weeks of confusion as teachers and students muddled through a situation fraught with uncertainty. Instructional time would be lost to the simple act of waiting for the conclusion of a pandemic that seems likely to continue, at least in some form, for months.
It’s unlikely many schools in America will return to classroom instruction before the end of the year. Why not make the bold decision that allows the educational system time to make the school year worthwhile for students?
Kelly’s critics proposed extending or ending school closures every week. That plan leaves every week with uncertainty about what delivery system education would use in the days to follow. The plan hardly seems conducive to productive planning and implementation of education goals, particularly during a time of high-anxiety for families. Children in challenging situations need structure, limits and predictability to best manage stress.
The upheaval was significant, but compared to the alternative? The governor did the right thing for Kansas.
Online education isn’t without ongoing difficulties. Limited access to broadband internet in rural areas of the state poses equity issues. Districts are implementing changes in widely different ways, with different expectations for students and educators.
In the midst of changes, Kansas teachers have truly risen to the challenge, but they need significant support from parents, students and administrators to make this transition successful.