In-depth report for schools offers sample lesson plans and advice on dealing with technology challenges; at least 35 Kansas residents have tested positive for COVID-19

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TOPEKA — A task force of educators delivered sweeping recommendations Thursday to Kansas school districts for adapting lesson plans with school buildings mostly shuttered until August.

Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order Tuesday to close schools for the remainder of the school year as part of a campaign to limit the spread of COVID-19, setting in motion a massive collaboration of veteran school teachers and administrators to craft a blueprint for continuous learning.

The task force produced a 76-page report with advice for dealing with technology challenges, delivery of meals and other issues. Schools are allowed to provide limited in-person instruction for groups of no more than 10 to accommodate all students.

Teachers are asked to conduct daily streaming video check-ins to hold students accountable, with times ranging from 30 to 90 minutes depending on grade level.

Health officials in Kansas have documented at least 35 positive tests for COVID-19 among state residents, plus two more for out-of-state visitors.

Cases in Johnson County jumped to 16, and Wyandotte County now has 9. Morris, Cherokee, Linn and Jackson counties reported their first cases.

The Legislature put final touches on bills crafted in response to the rapidly evolving threat of the novel coronavirus.

Lawmakers adopted a new state budget that included $15 million for emergency management expenditures in response to COVID-19. In addition, a $50 million fund was established for unanticipated costs of responding to the virus. That money would be controlled by the Legislative Coordinating Council comprising top House and Senate members.

"It gives us some flexibility and legislative oversight," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Legislators in the Senate and House also approved a resolution limiting the governor's emergency power during the COVID-19 crisis. At the request of Senate conservatives led by Parker Sen. Caryn Tyson, Resolution No. 5025 was amended to limit the governor's authority as she deals with coronavirus. It forbids the governor from seizing firearms and ammunition, private property, control the movement of livestock or people in a disaster area and to block transportation of alcoholic beverages.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, comprised exclusively of House and Senate Republican and Democratic legislators, was given responsibility for reviewing Kelly's executive orders or proclamations after May 1. Typically, the State Finance Council, which includes the governor and legislators, makes major decisions whenever the Legislature can’t be in session. The 2020 Legislature planned to adjourn Thursday until April 27.

"There was a lot of politics involved in this," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "What I find offensive is that they would try to restrict the power of the governor to do her job in a crisis."

Tyson said the withdrawal of certain power held by the Kansas governor was justified to protect individual liberties and broad executive branch overreach.

"I would never bring this legislation because of who is in the governor's office," Tyson said. "It is offensive that anyone would think this is a political maneuver."

On Thursday, Kelly signed bills passed earlier in the week that extend unemployment eligibility from 16 to 26 weeks and allow the judicial branch to alter deadlines for court filings and trials.

In addition to closing schools, Kelly has ordered a ban on mortgage foreclosures and evictions, public gatherings of 50 or more people, and utility shutoffs.

Debbi Beavers, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control, issued an order authorizing curbside sales for liquor stores, bars, wineries and breweries.

Sales are restricted to an area within 50 feet of the entrance, and beverages must be sealed.

"Many in the industry have recently expressed concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on licensees that sell alcoholic liquor to the public, specifically involving the potential closure of such businesses in light of increasing social distance requirements," Beavers said.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District in Kansas, announced she was self-quarantined after coming into contact with another member of Congress who tested positive for COVID-19.

"I'm thankfully feeling well and have not experienced any symptoms," she said.

Kansas education commissioner Randy Watson praised the 40-member education task force for working around the clock this week to deliver recommendations.

"They're a little bit sleep deprived as they've been working tirelessly over the past few days," Watson said.

Teachers will receive sample professional development plans, grade level and content guidelines, extensive technology guidelines, tips for learning in a virtual environment, and access to an online repository of materials.

The task force recommended schools send laptops and other devices home with students, after sanitizing the devices, and to reach out to local internet providers or cellphone service providers to request access for students in need.

"We believe collaboration is the key to success when it comes to rolling your technology decisions out to your community," said Dyane Smokorowski, a teacher at Andover Unified School District 385 who served as one of three chairwomen for the task force.

School districts will be asked to produce localized plans for providing in-person and digital instruction ahead of a mid-April deadline. Those plans will qualify schools for a waiver on classroom time required per school year under state statute.

Watson said there will be no standardized tests for the rest of this school year.

"I’m not sure when I’ve been more proud of my colleagues, the teachers of Kansas who refuse to allow student learning to suffer," said Mark Farr, president of Kansas National Education Association. "I want every teacher and student to know that we are working to keep everyone safe and learning."

Check back for updates as this story develops.