KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KSHB 41 News talked with Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson Wednesday about how the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is impacting the state's public education system.
"Right now, we're just concerned that we're on the on the starting edge of a number of school districts having to look at the option of temporarily shutting down or temporarily going to remote learning in order just to have school," Watson said.
In Kansas City, the Bonner Springs Edwardsville Unified School District announced Wednesday that the district will close on Thursday and Friday due to the number of students absent with illness.
Nearly 25% of Bonner Springs students were absent Wednesday. These days off will count as inclement weather days for the district.
Although a spokesperson for the district said they have been able to manage staffing absences due to illnesses so far, Watson said that every one of Kansas' school districts are under the stress to find qualified staff.
"I think every public and private school system right now is under stress as the substitute teacher load in every one of our private and public-school districts is high. The lack of substitutes is there," Watson said. "But as we sit here, right now, in mid January, I would say every one of our school districts is under stress, to find enough qualified staff to stay open."
Watson said he is currently working with close to 10 school districts with staff shortages and walking through scenarios of how to keep the schools open.
"Taking a couple of days isn't going to be the problem," Watson said. "The problem is going to be if that happens again and again and again in a cycle to school districts."
School districts can have up to 40 hours of remote learning each school year, but if they go beyond that, those hours will need to be made up in the summer.
On Wednesday morning, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to pass an emergency declaration that temporarily lifted some of the requirements for substitute teachers.
Until June 1, people wanting to become substitutes will no longer need to have 60 semester credit hours from an accredited college or university.
Applicants need to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma, have obtained a verified employment commitment from a district, be fingerprinted/pass a background check and submit an application to the Kansas Department of Education.
We want to hear from you on what resources Kansas City families might benefit from to help us all through the pandemic. If you have five minutes, feel free to fill out this survey to help guide our coverage: KSHB COVID Survey.