By Joey May

A snapshot of Governor Laura Kelly as she delivered a recent press conference.

Kansas students won’t see the inside of a classroom until after Labor Day.

And, if Kansans don’t start wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, the start date for school could get pushed back again.

Gov. Laura Kelly said she cannot, in good conscience, send children and teachers back to school in August, considering the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Kelly reminded Kansans of the dire need to take health precautions Wednesday afternoon during a live press conference. In her press conference she was joined by the Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson and the Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lee Norman.

“This virus has impacted all of our lives,” Gov. Kelly said, noting that when she ordered schools closed in March, the state case numbers reacted and they “flattened the curve.”

That is, until Memorial Day hit, and following that the case numbers have dramatically risen and now Kansas is considered a “red zone” based on the number of cases. Gov. Kelly said she had hoped to curb the rise in cases by mandating masks within the state, but many counties voted to over ride her mask mandate — as allowed by House Bill 2016 — and so that was not effective in slowing down the spread of the virus.

“The moment cases started trending downward, we saw a rise in politics,” stated Gov. Kelly, noting the resistance from the Legislative Council on her mandates.

With an incubation period of two weeks, the state will realize the full impact of social gatherings from the Fourth of July by this weekend, said Dr. Norman.

Gov. Kelly said she will be signing an Executive Order next Monday, July 20 mandating that Kansas schools cannot open until after Labor Day — at the very least putting the start date at Sept. 8 or later. She stressed this date included all activities and athletics.

The delay will give school districts time to prepare to bring the students back to the classroom in light of an 1,100 page document of guidelines for doing so — just released this past week by the Kansas Department of Education.

Dr. Watson said each school district will develop it’s own plans — fine-tuned to fit the district and the community’s needs based on restrictions within each county and according to the local health director. Some of the guidelines could include the requirement of masks in the classrooms, daily health assessments and temperature checks, in addition to stringent cleaning procedures.

Dr. Norman said that as of Wednesday, Kansas had more than 20,000 cases and almost 300 deaths after a recent spike. He noted that the disease should have declined in the summer months, but instead they saw record increases. Nationwide, there have been 140,000 deaths due to the COVID-19 coronavirus and Dr. Norman said many who have recovered were left with lingering health effects after contracting the virus.

“Every week we don’t take COVID-19 seriously it sets us back two weeks,” Dr. Norman said.

As the governor left her press conference, she was met with applause from the rotunda in the Capital from a large group of teachers who had gathered. Many teachers are concerned about returning to the classroom too early.

The governor’s decision must be affirmed by the State School Board.

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