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Kansas teachers discuss masks, sports in back-to-school meeting with Gov. Laura Kelly

Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 9:19 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - Governor Laura Kelly held a virtual discussion with teachers from across Kansas on Thursday to gather input regarding how their school districts are planning to reopen.

One of the first issues addressed by teacher Lori Stratton, of Wamego, were masks. She said her district is mandating them, but she has heard concerns from other teachers whose districts are making masks optional.

“What I’m hearing from my friends. Pretty much everyone in my family is a teacher. I know a lot of teachers around the state, is concerns about the levels of virus in the community and whether or not it’s safe to return when so much virus is present. That’s one of my concerns,” said Stratton.

Last month, Gov. Kelly issued an executive order mandating masks in schools for faculty, staff and students over five years old. Earlier this week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that based on House Bill 2016, or the COVID-19 bill, the governor’s mandate could be amended on the local level by county commissioners and local school boards.

Gov. Kelly said her administration is working to pursue a more definitive answer so that there’s no confusion on the matter, which also includes taking the temperature of everyone who enters school buildings, access to sanitization products and proper hand hygiene.

“I’m hoping that our school districts will actually follow the suit of a lot of our counties who initially decided to opt out and now are opting back in because of what happened and because the evidence is so very clear that if you use masks, you’re going to decrease the number of new cases in the spread,” the governor said.

Another issue approached Thursday morning -- athletics. The Kansas City Public Schools did away with fall sports for the upcoming school year. Jamila Harris is a counselor in the Wyandotte County school district. She said it has become a big issue for students who look forward to the fall sports for scholarship opportunities.

“Our student safety is very important to us just making sure that we are able to provide them with maybe spring sports what that will look like down the road. That’s a big concern right now in our district having that that was passed on Tuesday and a lot of the students are starting to speak out, however, it’s just not safe,” Harris questioned.

The governor said she hopes KSHSAA will look at moving some more individual sports such as cross country, tennis and golf to the fall and pushing the close-contact, high-risk sports, such as football and basketball, to the spring when a vaccine may be available or the virus is more under control.

“I agree with you sports is incredibly important, incredibly important for some of our first time going to college students, where that may be the only way they can afford to go. I’m hoping that we can ‚” said the governor. “I’m confident that the NCAA and those recognize that this is not normal now and they’re going to have to look at scholarshiping and all that stuff in a different way also.”

Teachers from Garden City, Hays, Lansing, Lawrence, Nickerson and Valley Center participated in the meetings. Other issues they addressed included remote learning, the free lunch program, teacher retention and mental health.

Sen. Dinah Sykes also participated in the meeting. She said it can be challenging for someone who wants to plan and wants to know what the next two weeks will look like, but the focus now should be on the safety of all Kansans, listening to data and health care professionals as we’re moving forward.

“Everyone has to kind of look at your own family’s situation, those dynamics with your kids, the needs that you have,” said Sen. Sykes.

The governor also stressed that the teachers encourage families in their communities to fill out the census which must be completed by the end of September.

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