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Sick in school? Limit on remote learning hours leaves Kansas schools with ‘difficult’ decision

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Usually, kids who get sick from COVID-19 need to quarantine for 14 days while learning from home. In Kansas, that changed with a law passed earlier this year.

Now, those remote learning hours are cut down, and schools have to deal with the changes once again.

The restrictions were passed as part of the massive school finance bill earlier this year. Under the law, there is a 40-hour limit on how long students can be in a remote setting. If schools were to go over those hours, under certain conditions, they could face the consequences.

“The risk is that they would lose funding, and the way we think the law would work, the real financial impact would probably be next year,” said Mark Tallman, a spokesperson with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

On Thursday, Tallman told Kansas Capitol Bureau that the penalty applies to scenarios in which a student is in remote or hybrid learning. If the student is in that setting for more than the 40-hour limit, the school will lose funding for that student. It also applies to school decisions to switch to remote learning environments for all students.

“If it was just a general decision by the school, in which case they said they’re concerned about COVID spread, the delta cases, so ‘we’re just going to go back to a remote environment for all students, not attached to a particular case,’ then they could lose funding over that,” Tallman explained.

There are some exceptions to the new rule. Tallman noted that if a student has special medical needs, then districts could request additional hours of quarantine time from the state board for that student. The local district could also apply for a waiver from the state board to get an additional 240 hours to respond to a public health emergency, like increased spread. The decision is ultimately left to the state’s department of education.

While Tallman said most of the schools he’s hearing from are not willing to take the risk of losing funding, it may be a decision they’re forced to make soon, as coronavirus cases are surging among children, and the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

Dr. Dennis Cooley, a pediatrician in Topeka, and District Chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests people should do what they can to stay safe.

“We’re not going to defeat this until we get people vaccinated. That’s going to be the main number one thing,” Cooley said. “Continue to wear your mask. Continue to do the distancing.”

While there is state safety guidelines for schools, according to the state’s health department and state board of education, the decision is left to local school districts on implementing those protocols.

Some school districts have increased safety measures in response to the increase in cases.

A spokesperson for Topeka Public Schools said that includes social distancing, wearing masks indoors, and special daily sanitizing techniques, like using UV lights in classrooms.

“Currently, with the high spread of the virus in the community, we are limiting indoor visitors unless they are serving students or are parents. 

SPOKESPERSON, TOPEKA PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Earlier in the pandemic, the return to school looked a little different. With most kids learning from home, chaos erupted for some teachers and students trying to adjust to the new normal. This sparked a major legislative effort to keep kids in the classroom this school year.

But, some public school advocates say the new restrictions could bring unforeseen challenges, especially as coronavirus cases increase. The latest CDC community transmission map shows virtually all of the state and country are showing “high” levels of spread.

Tallman said local school districts now face a critical decision.

“It really is just going to be another one of those extremely difficult decisions that a board has to make between what do we think is the best safety issue, what do we think is the best learning environment issue, and what do we think is the best for our funding stability in the future.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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