School districts across Kansas can open schools for the fall semester in mid-August after the Kansas State Board of Education voted 5-5 to reject Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order mandating a delay to after Labor Day.

The deadlocked board prevented Kelly’s executive order, issued Monday, from delaying the start of K-12 schools until Sept. 9. Kelly issued the order in response to rising COVID-19 cases in Kansas.

“Our decisions must be informed by public health experts, not politics,” Kelly said in a statement. “This vote puts our students, faculty, their families and our economy at risk.”

Kelly’s mandate that students and staff wear masks and have daily temperature checks still stands. 

School districts, which had spent the last week scrambling to come up with plans for a delayed start to the school year after Kelly announced her order last week, are now forced to adapt again.

“We want to make sure our kids and teachers our safe,” Labette County USD 506 Superintendent John Wyrick said. “It’s disappointing that the state board didn’t follow the governor’s order. Kelly has been a leader in this state in making sure our kids and staff are ready to return to a building when it’s safe. But we have already made precautions to ensure that our kids are in a safe environment.” 

Wyrick added that Labette County likely will revert back to its original calendar for the 2020-21 school year.

“It doesn’t really change anything that we have already had planned,” Wyrick said. “We’ve already approved a calendar to start school in August. If the governor’s order had passed, then we would’ve made changes.” 

Parsons USD 503 Superintendent Lori Ray echoed that she was surprised, albeit understanding, of Wednesday’s vote by the KSBE.

“I was surprised, but it was a very divided vote,” Ray said. “That’s what the larger populous is like right now. We’ll continue to move forward. We have a special board meeting to figure out what’s best for USD 503.” 

Ray added that delaying the opening of schools would have given districts extra time to prepare the buildings for health guidelines. 

“We want for kids to be in school. We want to do that as safely as possible,” Ray said. “This would have been additional time to plan for teachers regarding remote learning and other things. I don’t know what affect the time will have on the virus. That’s a question for the health department.” 

Schools across Kansas now have the authority to begin the school year when they see fit. Ray said one approach USD 503 may take is front-loading the school year with teacher work days in order to stay on schedule while delaying the arrival of students.

The KSBE’s vote Wednesday was required under a law enacted last month as a compromise between Kelly and GOP lawmakers who pushed to curb her power. Kelly lifted statewide restrictions on businesses and public gatherings on May 26 following weeks of criticism from Republicans that she was moving too slowly to reopen a state economy she had locked down for five weeks starting in late March.

Republicans have an 8-2 majority on the board and Kelly needed four GOP votes to prevail. Her plan received three.

Kelly closed all K-12 schools in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kansas was the first state in the country to close all schools for the rest of the 2019-20 year.

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Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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