Kansas on Tuesday became the first state to close all its K-12 schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, but there are signs it might not be the last.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, announced the order after a majority of other states had already done so. Kansas schools typically end their school years in mid- or late May.
“The steps we’re announcing today will create the space we need at the state level ... so that we can get ahead of this threat and limit its long term impact,” Kelly said at an afternoon press conference covered by KSNT.
A few hours later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom—who has not issued a statewide shutdown of schools—said in a news conference that the schools in his state would most likely be out for the remainder of the academic year. With roughly 6 million students in its public schools, California has the largest K-12 enrollment of any state. Newsom most of the state’s schools were already closed because of the virus.
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the state would provide public and private schools with resources for online learning, but he acknowledged that such teaching strategies “can in no way replicate the great learning that goes on in our world-class schools.”
By noon Tuesday, Education Week’s interactive map found that nearly 40 million public school students had been affected by school closures related to the efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Many governors and district leaders had already acted by Friday, calling for closures as short as two weeks, before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance suggesting that duration may not be long enough to effectively tamp down transmission rates in areas with heavy person-to-person spread of the virus.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican was the first state leader to order a mass school closing.
“This may not peak until the latter part of April or May, so we’ve informed the superintentendents while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, the odds are that this is going to go on a lot longer, and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” he told CNN Sunday.
Kansas had 16 documented cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday, KWCH reported. That’s fewer than some larger states. But the largely rural state may also have limited health care capacity in some areas, especially those where rural hospitals have shuttered, a concern recently raised by the Kansas City Star editorial board.
You can see the rapid escalation of coronavirus-related school closures in our new data visualizations.
Photo: School Resource Officer Donald Lee locks the gates of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School for Science and Technology, after all the students left, in New Orleans, March 13. The majority of states have ordered all schools closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, Kansas became the first to order such closures for the remainder of the school year. --AP Photo/Gerald Herbert