Kansas Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly, who is seeking re-election this November, said she makes “absolutely no apologies” for closing schools early on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kelly’s comments came during an appearance at the Kansas Chamber’s 2022 candidate conversations event in Olathe on Wednesday night as she responded to a question about the actions she took during the pandemic.
“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, describing the state’s closing process as the virus spread throughout the country. “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 said. “I’ll make no apologies for that.”
Kelly, the first governor in America to order K-12 schools to close for the remainder of the school year in March 2020, said Wednesday evening that the closures were a result of the state not having “knowledge how the virus spreads,” “testing” or “tools” to combat the virus effectively.
Jim Denning, a former Republican member of the Kansas Senate, penned an opinion piece Thursday blasting Kelly for the actions she took.
“Kelly calls herself the ‘education governor.’ Truth is, no governor has presided over more damage to Kansas students in our state’s history,” Denning wrote. According to a April 2022 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the school closures “may ultimately prove to be the most costly policy decision of the pandemic era in both economic and mortality terms.”
“Closing public schools was entirely under the control of policymakers,” the report stated.
“In Kansas, it was Kelly’s decision and hers alone,” Denning said of the school closures. “Student achievement in math, English and reading tumbled as a result. Those statistics simply reflect what Kansas parents already know: Their child suffered through remote learning and has fallen behind as a result. Our children’s mental health and wellness have also deteriorated from Kelly’s hurried lockdown. Isolation led to a rise in teen anxiety, depression and thoughts about suicide.”
A February 2021 report stated that between fall 2019 and fall 2020, both public and private schools in Kansas lost an estimated 15,700 students.
Kelly, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the state, will go head-to-head on November 8 against her GOP challenger, Derek Schmidt, as well as two other challengers, in an attempt to retain her seat at the helm of Kansas.