Kansas education leader hopeful for fall in-person classes

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ education commissioner is cautiously optimistic that the state’s 500,000 public school students will be back in their classrooms when the fall semester begins.

Commissioner Randy Watson concedes it’s difficult to predict the future as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools to go to mostly online learning since mid-March.

“We’re about 90 days now from the opening of school and I think there’s still much to learn about it,” Watson said, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “We’re cautiously optimistic that we can be back in school face-to-face in August. What that looks like, it’s just too early to tell.”

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly became the nation’s first governor to order closure of school buildings on March 17. The Kansas Department of Education intends to present a reopening guide to school districts by July 10, Watson said.

Restart scenarios should take into account a standard reopening as well as an alternative that would include blending in-person and online teaching, Watson said. The contingency could be needed if there is resurgence of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Different infection-control actions may be necessary in different parts of the state, depending on infection clusters, he said.

When classes resume, it is essential to rebuild school learning environments for students with disabilities and those losing ground academically and emotionally, Watson said.

Statewide, Kansas has recorded 193 deaths and 7,900 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, although the numbers are believed to be low due to initial limits in testing.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

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