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Minutes for SB235 - Committee on Education

Short Title

Enacting the back to school act to require school districts to provide an full-time, in person attendance option for all students beginning on March 26, 2021.

Minutes Content for Thu, Feb 25, 2021

Chairperson Baumgardner opened the hearing on SB235.

Tamera Lawrence, Assistant Revisor, Office of the Revisor of Statute, gave a brief overview of the bill.

Proponent Testimony:

Senator Ty Masterson, President, Kansas Senate, told the Committee this is a simple bill with the simple purpose of getting our kids back in school. Our lives have changed over the last year in ways we would never have imagined, and our children have unfortunately suffered a great deal from the challenges we've faced.

As we all take the necessary steps to get back to normal, our first priority must be to ensure that every child in Kansas can have the option to return to full-time in-person learning. Our kids need in-person interaction with their teachers, not with a screen. They need relationships, not isolation.

Senate President Masterson believes in trusting Kansans in the policies we enact which means listening to and trusting our parents and our teachers and even our kids. It's time to trust them by providing all families in Kansas an option for in-person learning.

Since this bill came to light, several school districts have taken action to open even ahead of the date in the bill. Let's get Kansas kids back in the classroom. (Attachment 1)

Laura Klingensmith told of her daughter who is a junior at Blue Valley West High School in Johnson County. Since the schools have been closed, school spirit has diminished, desire to learn has faded, the relationship and engagement between teachers and students is failing.

Remote and Hybrid learning as a solution simply is not adequate. K12 teachers are unprepared to teach in remote and hybrid learning. Their lack of experience and formal education and training evident as I observe and listen to classes being conducted online.

We all have that one teacher who made a difference in our life; the one who believed in you, talked with you, encouraged you to take a path you may never have taken and was able to guide and teach you. Why can our children today not have the same advantage?

The schools did not close for H1N1 virus, known as a far more deadly virus to children. Schools did not close for the 2014 Ebola outbreak nor the 2018 H3N2 flu season and other threats. DeSoto School District has been in full person classroom education for five weeks with a reported increase in achievement, engagement and student grades according to a teacher I spoke with.

Her daughter shares that her teachers are not as friendly and welcoming this year. Teacher involvement is low, trying to contact teachers with questions frustrating, and teachers too complain about remote and hybrid learning models.

The solution should not cause more harm than the problem.The purpose of education is to teach children not only math, science, English and history but also to encourage them to grow intellectually by asking questions, exploring new thoughts and ideas in a subject that interests them and socially interact with others. (Attachment 2)

Written proponent testimony was submitted by:

Dr. Jill Ackerman, MD (Attachment 3)

Dr. Caroline Danda, PhD, Licensed Psychologist (Attachment 4)

Amy Thomas (Attachment 5)

Justin Reimer (Attachment 6)

Ian Reimer (Attachment 7)

Miranda Reed (Attachment 8)

Linda Klaiber (Attachment 9)

Carrie Rahfaldt (Attachment 10)

Ardith Holmes (Attachment 11)

Opponent Testimony:

Mark Tallman, Associate Executive Director, Kansas Association of School Boards, stood in opposition based on both philosophical and practical concerns about this bill. Almost all local school board members have been frustrated by having to make difficult decisions about school operations during the COVID pandemic. While some might have welcomed more direction or control from the state, that is not the position we received from our members as we developed our legislative policies this year.

The first issue raised in this bill is whether the Legislature should now decide that on a specific date, and then forever after, regardless of local circumstances, the option of in person learning must always be provided.

Second, this bill raises a number of concerns about local operations. The following issues should be clarified:

  • The bill does not make any exceptions for any future pandemics, other health and safety issues, natural disasters, or any other factors that might case schools to close.
  • The bill does not appear to remove the county health department's authority to put people under quarantine orders.
  • The bill requires offering "full-time" in-person learning. That could be interpreted to include summer school.
  • The bill does not provide an exception for students who are enrolled in school but are currently suspended or expelled from school.
  • This bill does not provide an exception for adult learners.

KASB would stress that dissatisfied parents and patrons have the same recourse over the action of their local school boards as they do over their elected state and county officials: the ballot. (Attachment 12)

Lara K. Bors, President, Garden City USD 457 Board of Education, believes it is very important for students to have the opportunity for in-person learning. The research has undoubtedly shown that the majority of students learn the best when receiving in-person instruction. She testified in opposition because this decision has been and should be made by local school boards who take into consideration what is appropriate in each school district given the local conditions.

During the summer of 2020, Garden City Public Schools engaged approximately 200 stakeholders, including representatives from the local health department, in developing a plan for conducting school during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan placed a priority on keeping things as normal as possible, while putting in place reasonable mitigation strategies to keep students, staff, and families safe.

There are many local factors that must be considered when determining the appropriate method for conducting school during a pandemic. One of the most critical is the availability of teachers and all other staff. Every position in the school is important in creating a safe and positive environment for students to learn.

The State Board of Education has taken their call of duty to protect the students of Kansas seriously with their Navigating Change and Navigating Next documents. She encourages The Committee to allow the State Board of Education to follow their constitutional directive to supervise the public schools of this state as they move forward. (Attachment 13)

Mark Desetti, Legislative and Political Advocacy, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), wants students to return to their school buildings face to face with their teachers but differs on how the decision to return is made. Last session the Legislature took authority away from the Governor and passed legislation giving that authority to the local level ie county commissions and county health departments, arguing that the best decisions could be made community by community with local officials. Yet this bill is a one-size-fits-all approach mandated by the state and overriding the decisions of local officials.

We have more science indicating young people do not suffer greatly if they get Covid and with proper mitigation factors in place, schools do not become super-spreader events. Teachers have now been prioritized on the vaccine program meaning getting sick from the virus is much less likely. Keeping this virus contained while pursuing the vaccination program is critical.

KNEA has been very consistent in their messages about the return to school buildings. We will return to those buildings as soon as the health officials tell us it is safe to do so. Let local school boards in consultation with their local health authorities decide when to reopen our buildings. (Attachment 14)

Written Opponent testimony was submitted by:

Dr. Dena Hubbard, MD, Legislative Coordinator, Kansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics (Attachment 15)

Deena Horst and Ben Jones, Legislative Liaisons, Kansas State Board of Education (Attachment 16)

Neutral Testimony:

Madeline Holscher, a student at Olathe School District, stated that all students hope for a return to normalcy and want to safely get back to school as they have missed being in person.

Her reason for testifying was that she doesn't want people to fall into the false narrative that all students are failing. She has been remote since the beginning of the school year. She has seen teachers going above and beyond to connect with students, engage them in conversation in class, and educate them. Educators have been spending long hours working to do things differently as they were not trained to teach in a virtual format.

There are things she considers a benefit from on-line school. She can quickly and privately ask questions of the teacher through the on-line chat, classes are very complete and coherent because virtual requires a great deal of prep work by the teachers.

She recognizes on-line may not work for some. There are many different situations due to a very diverse student body.

In closing, she requests that we don't refer to this as a "lost year". Students are growing, learning, and ultimately surviving a pandemic. (Attachment 17)

Written Neutral Testimony was submitted by:

Kari Rinker, MPA, State Government Relations Director, American Heart Association (Attachment 18)

Seeing no further Conferees, the Chair closed the hearing on SB235.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:31 PM.

The next meeting will be February 26, 2021, 1:30 PM in Room 144-S