‘This is absurd’: Parents, students angry over Kansas closing schools for coronavirus

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s order Tuesday to keep students out of K-12 schools for the remainder of the school year incited an explosion of anger, shock, tears and questions that school officials have not answered yet.


Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday announced K-12 schools will close for the rest of the school year. BY GOVERNOR LAURA KELLY


Alicia Thompson, the superintendent of Wichita Public Schools, talks about what the district will do going forward now that Kansas governor Laura Kelly has closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. 


Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly called a news conference Saturday and announced the state’s first positive case of the new coronavirus: COVID-19. The patient is a Johnson County woman. BY KANSAS GOVERNOR LAURA KELLY

The move, unprecedented for the state, was needed because it became clear that the spread of the new coronavirus “cannot be controlled if school districts return to normal operation,” Kelly said.

Some school districts posted notices as soon as Kelly spoke, promising details to come. But confusion reigned, judging by the social media storm that followed.

People wanted to know: Who’s going to stay home with my kids? What about the high school seniors? What about graduation? Will employees, such as the cafeteria workers, get paid? How is this going to work?

Some people called the decision “madness” and “overkill.” One Kansas mother said her child was in tears:

“This is absurd. How do you expect the economy to recover? Public system and family life style is not capable of handling this ridiculous strategy. You will kill the economy and kids will be home alone while parents work. …”

“Our Kansas schools just cancelled for the rest of the year. My 12 year old who loves school in tears.”

As recently as Monday, Kansas health, school and local officials had said schools would resume classroom education on April 6.

The newly announced closures apply to all public and private schools in the state, and officials admit there are still many unanswered questions. Plans for how schools will deliver course work to students are expected to come from districts by next week.

“We have entered into a new reality,” said Mike Fulton, Shawnee Mission’s superintendent. “It requires all of us working together in support of our community.

“I would ask that we allow each other a measure of grace, as we develop plans for what school looks like in the weeks ahead.”

But those words did not stop a flood of reaction on district Facebook pages.

“I am sure I’m not the only one who has a very sad senior tonight. I understand that it’s not a priority right now but I hope that our seniors will still be given a graduation ceremony. Even if it’s in July. … These kids work so hard and will miss out on so much,” wrote one mom in the Shawnee Mission school district.

“I’m a student at Washburn rural in Kansas and there isn’t a way they can do that it just isn’t a way to do this,” tweeted one frustrated student.

Others urged parents to stay calm.

“Instead of freaking out about schools pre K-12 being over until they can ‘hopefully’ restart in August, I’m just gonna pray and enjoy this time with my family. As sad as it is to see Kansas shutting down it has to be done.”

Brian Fink of Prairie Village, who has three children ages 2, 5 and 8, said grandparents and friends would help the family while the schools are closed. “I feel like it’s the best thing we can do to keep everyone safe,” said Fink, a pharmacist.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said that each district will be contacting the parents of the roughly 500,000 students in the state to let them know what the education process will look like for them. And Kelly said that all school employees will continue to be paid. “This is not an intent to lay off anyone,” Kelly said.

The Kansas National Education Association is supportive of the governor’s order, said spokesman Marcus Baltzell.

“Education may never look the same again,” Baltzell said.

School officials said that going forward education could be a mix of online classwork and paper-and-pencil worksheets, since not all students have access to computers and good internet. And teachers could be working with some students in small groups.

Kelly said all the buildings will be closed initially and once they have “been thoroughly sanitized some of them may be reopened” for some activities.

Also districts will work on how to get meals to students, some of whom depend on getting breakfast and lunch at school each day. Watson said those meals will be delivered to preschool and school-age children. Some districts on Monday, he said, delivered as many as 800 meals.

And as for seniors worried about the pomp of graduation, Watson said school boards will be checking on graduation requirements to assure that seniors who are on track to graduate will. But he did not say whether graduates will have the opportunity to walk across the stage and toss a tassel in front of a crowd.

Tuesday night Missouri Gov. Mike Parson gave his own coronavirus briefing. He said 80% of schools in the state are currently closed, but none for the rest of the year. He said the reason he did not order all schools closed for the duration of the academic year is, “We have 540 schools in this state and a lot of those schools don’t have day care and a lot of those schools are the main employer for those districts.”

Source: The Kansas City Star