RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Students across the country are out of school right now because of the coronavirus. Many state and local officials have told parents that the closure's just for a few weeks. But this week, Kansas became the first state to suspend all K-12 in-person classes for the rest of the school year. Here's Governor Laura Kelly.
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LAURA KELLY: Unprecedented circumstances threaten the safety of our students and the professionals who work with them every day. And we must respond accordingly.
MARTIN: Joining us now is Charles Foust. He's the superintendent of schools for Kansas City. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
CHARLES FOUST: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: What's been the reaction? I mean, what have you been hearing from parents and students?
FOUST: Well, I think it's more of the anxiety of when will we be back in school, what is that going to look like and then, you know, parents who are saying, hey, I didn't sign up to be a teacher. I have never taught before. Or we've had the questions of, you know, the grandparents or the caregivers who are taking care of our students, how do we make sure that they are going to get the education that we had been giving them before? So it's all of the unknowns.
MARTIN: Let's dig into some of those, if you don't mind. And I understand you're at the beginning stages of this. But it is one thing for teenagers, you know, people in high school or even older middle school who might be able to use some self-discipline, sit down in front of a computer, but what about the younger kids? Parents are going to have to be involved.
FOUST: Yes, they are. So all of our kids - we have expected to give all of our kids technology - every one of them. And so they are putting together an opportunity for parents to come, caregivers to come and pick up a device. And as they pick up those devices - these are for the individuals who are - we'll say kindergarten through eighth grade - they can come pick up the device. And they're going to be given a quick crash course on how to set up the technology, so you'll have the Wi-Fi hotspot ability. And then we are also having a phone bank for individuals to call in so that we can help walk them through.
MARTIN: Obviously, so many parents are working from home, so that's going to be a stretch on them. These people are trying to do their jobs so they can get a paycheck. That's one thing. What about the kids who don't even have a reliable parent at home? I mean, maybe it is that grandmother raising several kids. Maybe it's a single parent.
FOUST: Right, absolutely.
MARTIN: How do they manage?
FOUST: So what we're - we're going to be attempting videos so that we can put these on YouTube. Some of this is going to be enrichment and, again, just alleviating all of the anxiety that we can but actually saying that, hey, this may not work the first time, but it is what you would call a trial and error. And if we find that there are parents who are really, really struggling, you know, we are not above going out to a house or having someone come and us showing them what they need to do.
MARTIN: Kansas City, like a lot of cities, frankly, before the coronavirus already suffered from a big educational divide, right? Students from wealthier families had more resources and, as a result, did better in school. Are you afraid this decision precipitated by this pandemic is going to exacerbate that divide?
FOUST: We know that this will not be the perfect setting for anyone. And, of course, there are the haves and the have-nots. But what we're wanting to make sure is that we level the playing ground by providing access with resources and calling. And so it will not be your traditional educational atmosphere. I will say that. There's no way that we can provide that at this point. But I think given some guidance and, you know, looking through the trial and error and what works, I don't know if it'll be perfect, but we will get the plane off the ground. So again, we're going to be taking insight from parents, from our community, from our teachers because this is not a district office (ph) assignment. This is a community assignment that we're going to be doing to provide the best that we can in these situations.
MARTIN: Right. And I think it helps to hear your optimism, right? You sort of don't have another choice in your job.
FOUST: Right, right.
MARTIN: But at the same time, I'm sure you acknowledge to yourself that some kids are going to get lost in this, right?
FOUST: Right, right. Some kids, even, you know, some of our teachers who are not tech savvy will also fumble. And so our goal is to keep our lines open and, you know, to check on them, to make sure that they're OK. As the leader, I need to be optimistic because I do believe that we have the right people. We have the right staff in place. If anyone can do it, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools employees can help pull this off.
MARTIN: All right. Well, we so appreciate your time. Charles Foust, the superintendent of schools for Kansas City, thank you so much.
FOUST: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.