By Suzanne Perez – Kansas News Service
WICHITA, Kansas — The Wellington school district in south-central Kansas has closed all of its public schools because of COVID-19 outbreaks less than two weeks after classes started.
An announcement posted on the district’s website and on its social media channels late Thursday said Sumner County health officials deemed three of Wellington’s six buildings as outbreak schools.
As a precaution, the district decided to close all schools until Sept. 7, the day after Labor Day. It also canceled all sports practices and school-related activities.
The district of 1,500 students had made masks optional in classrooms.
Sumner County Health Officer Laura Rettig said she wasn’t surprised by how quickly the virus spread in schools. An outbreak is defined as at least five positive cases in one location.
“You’re probably going to see more schools” have COVID-19 outbreaks in coming days and weeks, she said.
“If I can predict the future, you’re probably going to see more . . . across the board have issues.”
The Wellington district is not offering any remote learning options during the closure. A state law passed earlier this year discourages online learning. It limits remote learning to 40 hours per student or schools risk losing more than half of state funding for that student.
The Kansas Association of School Boards had previously warned that the state law creates tough decisions for districts. School officials have to decide whether to hold classes during an outbreak, totally cancel school or offer online education but risk a loss of state funding.
The new law allows exceptions to the 40-hour limit for illnesses or emergencies.
Mark Tallman, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the state will ultimately decide what counts when it audits attendance figures.
“Then they’re going to have to determine: Was that a legitimate exception, or will the financial penalty apply?” Tallman said in an interview this week.
The Wellington district, in Sumner County, has four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.
Officials said they will reassess the situation in September and update families via email, text alerts and the district’s website.