Recent Kansas editorials

Kansas City Star, July 10

Just over a month away from the scheduled start of school, Kansas teachers still don’t know much more than parents and students about whether or how school buildings will reopen.

But they know one thing: They sure as heck won’t be bullied into going back to schools that aren’t safe — not by the president or anyone else.

The teachers are right. This is no time for a classroom bully.

The Kansas National Education Association is pushing back against President Donald Trump’s sudden insistence that schools across the country reopen, and his threat to cut funding if they don’t.

“This kind of strong-arm-from-the-bully-pulpit tactic, I think, is going to not go well at all,” Marcus Baltzell, Kansas National Education Association director of communications, tells The Star.

Noting the hypocrisy of some Kansas conservatives refusing to wear masks but demanding that teachers be forced back into a work environment regardless of its safety, Baltzell says, “They are ignoring the facts. They ignore the science. They’re simply saying, essentially, hey schools, you exist for the benefit of the economy and businesses — so let’s get you back open so that those things can happen. We’re vehemently against that ...”

Teachers, many of whom are at high-risk for suffering complications from COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions or who have family members who are, “are on pins and needles” awaiting guidance on reopening from the Kansas State Board of Education at its meeting July 15, says Linda Sieck, president of NEA-Shawnee Mission.

An unknown number of teachers, even some not of retirement age, are weighing the risks of returning to the classroom in the current coronavirus climate, Sieck says.

Not that teachers don’t desperately want to get back in the classroom. Polls of KNEA members overwhelmingly show they do, Baltzell says. Adds Sieck: “Remote learning is not what I went into teaching for. It’s the daily interactions with kids that go way beyond the content, the curriculum, that you teach.”

But they have to be convinced schools are as safe as they can be made in the eyes of medical experts. Baltzell, who describes the collaboration between the Kansas Department of Education, KNEA and other education agencies as “herculean,” says the KNEA is advocating four basic principles for reopening: masks for all; adherence to CDC guidance and science; social distancing, such as through smaller classes, staggered schedules and personal protective equipment; and collaboration with school officials, parents and students on the ground.

“We want teachers to be in classrooms. And the teachers want to be in classrooms,” Baltzell says. “But they don’t want to be in classrooms and have their lives and the lives of their family members or their students put in jeopardy.”

Any reopening plans will necessarily be fluid, before and after a reopening, to adjust to changing coronavirus realities. But to add a slice of certainty to that heaping helping of incertitude, Shawnee Mission schools have released a draft reopening plan covering three possible scenarios: “All students in school, an alternating schedule where students would attend on-site part-time and remote part-time, and all instruction occurring remotely at home.”

Indeed, much will be up to local districts — perhaps including an insistence on masks, which will put many school boards at odds with county commissions and city councils that have refused to mandate masks. So be it. The schools will have to stay strong and mandate masks.

Most kids are better off in school, with the certainty of meals and the safety net of a caring community. But opening schools prematurely could risk the health and even lives of some, and imperil the reopening of the wider economy if it leads to wider spread of a shifty virus.

Most of us are eager to get back to school and some semblance of normalcy in education. But science and health must lead these decisions, not politics or economics.

Topeka Capital-Journal, July 10

Good job, Oklahoma voters.

On June 30, you all managed to get something done that has eluded the Kansas Legislature for the better part of a decade. You successfully voted to expand Medicaid in your state, covering tens of thousands of low-income residents.

Missouri voters will get to make the same decision next month, voting on a Medicaid referendum Aug. 4. We encourage them to follow the lead of our neighbors to the south.

In the meantime, of course, Kansas voters won’t get to make that choice. And it’s not because we don’t support expansion — polling consistently shows expansion is overwhelmingly popular. And it’s not because a majority in the House and Senate don’t back it — the votes were there throughout last session.

No, it’s because a small cadre of right-wing leaders, including Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, persist in ideologically blinkered opposition to a law that preserves health and saves lives.

Perhaps we sound irritated and exhausted. That’s because we are.

We’ve called for expansion repeatedly. We’ve gone through the facts and figures, through the arguments pro and con. The case is clear, and some 150,000 Kansans would stand to benefit. It’s beyond frustrating to watch states around us expand — in the middle of a once-a-century pandemic, no less — while Kansas sits on its hands.

Let’s just pause and emphasize that fact. We are facing a generational challenge. COVID-19 has caused unparalleled disruption to people’s health and to our economy. With record-setting unemployment, many Kansans have lost their health insurance. There is no better time, no more crucial set of circumstances, to expand the program.

Legislators faced a shortened session this year, of course. If the coronavirus hadn’t interfered, perhaps they would have figured something out. But abortion politics had already become intertwined with the bill (for inexplicable reasons), and the path was far from clear.

We have a proposal for lawmakers next session. Expand Medicaid or don’t, it’s up to you. But if you can’t make up your minds once again, allow Kansans to have a say. Allow us the same choice they had in Oklahoma and will have in Missouri.

Let us decide this matter, once and for all.

We strongly suspect we know how Kansans would vote. We’d wager that Kansas legislators know as well.

The Wichita Eagle, July 8

You’ve got another chance, Sedgwick County commissioners.

You rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide order to wear masks in public spaces. You ignored warnings, brushed off medical experts, questioned data and opted for feeble suggestions and political pandering over clear direction and leadership.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the last word for our community.

On Wednesday — less than a week after a courageous vote by the Wichita City Council to enact a citywide mask mandate — Dr. Garold Minns took charge and took action for Sedgwick County.

The county health officer issued an emergency order requiring face coverings in public spaces and prohibiting gatherings of more than 45 people.

Good for him.

“I recognize that our community wants to get back to normal life before the appearance of COVID-19, but it is simply not possible at this time,” Minns said.

“We will get through this together, but we cannot get through it unless we all take responsibility to keep our family, friends and neighbors safe and healthy.”

His order acknowledges a troubling increase in positive cases, hospitalizations and community spread of COVID-19, which a majority of commissioners are too naive or knuckleheaded to admit.

And it will go into effect early Friday morning unless the Sedgwick County Commission overturns it.

Will commissioners be brazen enough to reject the doctor’s order? Could they be that dismissive of a virus that threatens lives and livelihoods? Will they once again play politics with public health?

We hope not — but given recent events, we’re skeptical.

Just last week, as the rise in COVID-19 cases put Kansas on travel-quarantine advisory lists, a majority of commissioners suggested that residents and businesses should just be trusted to do the right thing.

That’s not working.

It’s time to get tough and mandate face masks, which are a painless and proven tool to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect our most vulnerable residents.

It’s also time to quit pretending that everything’s back to pre-COVID normal. It’s not, so we shouldn’t be allowing large gatherings either. (More kudos to city leaders for slamming the brakes on a huge car show planned for downtown Wichita.)

At least Minns had the courage to act on behalf of public health. If commissioners aren’t ready to be so bold, they should step back and let his order stand.