Lawrence school board approves start after Labor Day, at least 6 weeks remote learning

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school board

Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks to the Lawrence school board during its meeting on Monday, July 27, 2020.

Story updated at 11:49 p.m. Monday

The Lawrence school year will begin about three weeks later than originally scheduled, with fully remote learning, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Lawrence school board on Monday unanimously approved pushing the start of the school year until after Labor Day and beginning it with at least six weeks of remote learning. The 2019-20 school year ended with a similar period of remote learning after Gov. Laura Kelly shut down schools in response to the pandemic.

A school district task force had been considering several options, including a hybrid education model that would allow for students to spend some school days in classrooms and others at home with remote learning. The board ultimately chose to begin with fully remote learning, with a move to the hybrid model to be considered later in the school year.

Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood said she did not feel comfortable starting with anything other than remote learning because of the public health threat of COVID-19.

“I’m not willing to let our students and staff serve as the coal miner’s canary for COVID,” Cadue-Blackwood said.

The new start date is about three weeks later than the original schedule, which was set to begin the week of Aug. 17. Under the new calendar, the school year will begin Sept. 8 and end May 27. Additionally, the elementary school year will be administered through trimesters, while the middle and high school years will be split up by quarters. The entire approved calendar can be found on the district’s website, USD497.org.

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The new start date follows Kelly’s recent order to begin the K-12 school year after Labor Day. However, the Kansas State Board of Education last week rejected making Kelly’s order a statewide mandate, leaving the decision up to local school boards.

The later start date was meant to provide schools with more time to decide how to begin the school year. Patrick Kelly, executive director of curriculum and instruction, said Monday that the school district’s task force on the topic was considering three different models: in-person learning, remote learning and a hybrid model that allows a mixture of both.

After the presentation, a majority of the school board members said they were already in favor of starting the school year through remote learning. The board also heard from Lindsay Buck, president of the local teacher’s union, who said the organization also believed the school year should begin with an “extended period” of remote learning unless there was an improvement of community cases of COVID-19.

The board had received many emails and comments from community members. Some argued for starting the school year with a hybrid model as a way to help make sure some students do not fall behind in their education, while others called for remote learning to help mitigate the risk of the virus spreading. Board President Kelly Jones said the decision was “incredibly painful.”

“Every one of these decisions is about mitigating risk and all of them have negative consequences for our kids,” Jones said.

As part of the approval to start the school year through remote learning, the board members said they will revisit the topic after those first six weeks, during their meeting on Sept. 28.


In other business, the board gave initial approval to the 2020-2021 school year budget and scheduled a budget hearing for 6 p.m. Aug. 10, which is the board’s next meeting.

Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance, said the proposed budget includes a 0.497 increase to the mill levy, for a total of 53.481 mills. For a $200,000 home, that’s a little more than a $11 increase in annual property tax.

The board also approved recognizing the Paraeducators Association of Lawrence, also known as PAL, as a union. With the approval, the board directed district administration to begin the application process of formally recognizing the union and opting into the state’s Public Employer-Employee Relations Act, or PEERA.

David Cunningham, executive director of human resources and chief legal counsel for the school district, said the process could move quickly and may be ready for final consideration during the Aug. 10 meeting.


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