Lawrence school board to consider delaying school year start until after Labor Day amid pandemic
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
The Lawrence school district will soon decide whether it will push back the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
During its meeting on Monday, the Lawrence school board will hear an update from its task force that is working on how the school district will reopen schools and begin the new school year. As part of the discussion, the board is expected to consider pushing back the start of the school year until after Labor Day, which Gov. Laura Kelly recently planned in an executive order.
However, Kelly’s order did not become a statewide mandate because the Kansas State Board of Education rejected the order during its meeting earlier this week. Despite that, Lawrence school board President Kelly Jones and Superintendent Anthony Lewis both said the board would be considering enacting Kelly’s plan locally during the board’s next meeting.
When announcing the order, Kelly said schools would remain closed until Sept. 9, giving school districts more time to adequately prepare for the fall semester, the Journal-World has reported.
Several large school districts in Kansas have already put the governor’s order in place, including the Wichita school district and Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission districts in Johnson County, according to The Associated Press.
The Lawrence school year is currently scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 17. Pushing back the start until after Labor Day would give the school district about three more weeks to work on its reopening plan.
How the school district will begin the school year has become a fraught issue. During the board’s July 13 meeting, when the reopening task force provided its first update to the school board, some teachers and community members gathered in protest outside the school district’s administrative offices. They called for the district to begin the school year through remote learning, and many teachers wrote to the school board explaining they did not feel safe returning to school buildings during the pandemic.
During that meeting, Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said no plans had been finalized about how or when schools would reopen. Additionally, some board members said they wanted the task force to explore a “hybrid” plan, which would allow some students and teachers to use remote learning and others to meet in person at school buildings.
In other business, the board will meet with the Paraeducators Association of Lawrence, a group of paraeducators for the school district who are trying to unionize.
The group asked the school district for union recognition during the school board’s June 8 meeting. For the group to be recognized, the school board needs to “opt in” to Kansas’ Public Employer-Employee Relations Act, or PEERA, union leaders have said.
Organizers told the Journal-World the group wants union recognition to be able to negotiate for better pay and training opportunities, among other things.
Since the request, the board has received many letters and comments from community members in support of the group. Additionally, Jones said there was support on the board for recognizing the group as a union.
The board will also consider setting a 2020-2021 school year budget hearing date for Aug. 10. Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance, is expected to provide the board with a presentation on the proposed budget.
Many of the budget changes for the new school year were approved in April, including raises for most employees.
The school board will meet at 5 p.m. Monday for a work session and 6 p.m. for its regular meeting through an online conference call. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district encourages the public to watch the meeting on Midco channel 26 or online at youtube.com/USD497.
Those who want to speak during public comments at the meeting can still do so. The school district asks for comments to be sent by email to PatronCommentary@usd497.org by 6 p.m. the day of the meeting. Comments can also be emailed to board members ahead of the meeting. Their contact information is available on the district’s website at usd497.org/Board.
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