WICHITA, Kan. (TND) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is refusing to apologize for choosing to shut down in-person instruction at public schools during the pandemic.
At an event this week hosted by the Kansas Chamber, Kelly boldly said she makes "absolutely no apologies" for being the first governor in the country to implement a one-size-fits-all statewide shuttering of schools in March 2020 for the remainder of the academic year.
"We in Kansas had to take a look at what do we know, what do we have, and what we need to do to make sure we keep our people safe," Kelly said, referring to the early days of the pandemic when the virus was beginning to spread throughout the country and leaders were deciding whether to close schools.
"So, when I look at what we did, I know everybody thinks about the sort of dramatic decision to close our schools and to be the first governor to close them for the entire year," Kelly continued. "I'll make no apologies for that."
"We did not have personal protective equipment here. We didn't have testing here. We really didn't have the tools or the knowledge of how this virus would spread to be able to leave our children in congregant settings where they could become infected and take that infection home to their families," she added, according to The Kansas City Star.
After Kelly was quick to shut down schools in March 2020, she also pushed to delay their reopening for the following academic year from mid-August until Sept. 8. However, she was ultimately blocked by the Kansas State Board of Education.
"Instead of focusing where the spikes are occurring we have a one size fits all solution," state board of education member Deena Horst said at the time, according to the Kansas Reflector. "For my small rural districts, the Governor’s order is problematic."
In February 2021, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, public and private schools in the state lost approximately 15,700 students, which was just over 3% of the state's fall 2019 enrollment.
At the Kansas Chamber's event for candidates this week, Republican Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is trying to take Kelly's job this November, criticized the state's approach during the early days of COVID under his opponent's leadership.
"My criticism is that we didn't learn very quickly as a state," Schmidt said, according to The Star. "And looking back on it now with the benefit of seeing how different states handled the pandemic, it is clear to me, and I think to most Kansans, that an approach that trusted people more was the right approach because it was possible to maintain public health and also not to do long-term damage to our kids, our businesses, our economy."