The Kansas State Board of Education has voted to reject Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed executive order that would delay the opening of schools until after Labor Day.
In a deadlocked 5–5 vote following a two-hour video conferencing debate, the board of education failed to receive a simple majority that is needed to affirm the Democratic governor’s order. Without the order, it will be up to individual school districts to decide when to reopen their schools.
The board’s power to block Gov. Kelly’s executive order is authorized under a law passed last month by the Republican-controlled state legislature, which found Kelly too slow when reopening the state’s economy but too aggressive when imposing restrictive measures over the past months.
Gov. Kelly, who has been waiting for the board’s approval to sign what would have become Executive Order 2058, said the delayed reopening would allow school districts to have sufficient time to get personal protective equipment, citing the state’s rising number of COVID-19 cases.
“The additional three weeks will provide schools time to get masks, thermometers, hand sanitizer, and other necessary COVID-19 mitigation supplies,” Kelly said last week during a press conference. “I can’t in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots, where cases are at an all-time high and continuing to rapidly rise.”
Board members who opposed Kelly’s order, however, argued that they had low numbers of COVID-19 cases in their districts and considered it unfair to impose a one-size-fits-all decision on school districts that could safely open in August.
“The timeline is different for each school board and every community, and this order does not provide this flexibility for our districts,” said board member Ben Jones.
“We should be listening to the doctors, not the politicians, when we make this decision,” said board member Michelle Dombrosky. “The districts have been preparing for this and are prepared for this.”
In a Wednesday statement, Gov. Kelly said the vote “puts our students, faculty, their families, and our economy at risk,” and vowed to convince each individual district to comply with her plan.
“The cases of COVID-19 in Kansas are at an all-time high and continue to rise,” said the governor. “I will continue to work with our school districts to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and ask every school district to delay the start of school.”
Meanwhile, the vote had no effect on Kelly’s Executive Order 2059, which requires everyone inside a school building to wear a mask, take temperatures, and physically distance.