Some technology issues as more Kansas schools begin classes

Students and teachers facing an already challenging new school year dealt with technology issues as more Kansas school districts reopened Tuesday with many students working online.

In Olathe, service was interrupted Tuesday morning when nearly 50,000 users on separate devices tried to log on to the district’s online teaching system that is designed for 30,000 students, school officials said.

The district’s middle and high school students were using only remote learning, while elementary students started with a hybrid of online and in-person classes.

The district had previously increased its bandwidth. After more servers were added, the disruption was cleared by mid-morning Tuesday, said spokesman Cody Kennedy, who declined to speculate on why traffic on the system was so unexpectedly heavy.

In Wichita, where students in sixth through 12th grades were only online and elementary students started with the hybrid model, the district had enough devices for online students but still needed hotspots for some of them, Superintendent Alicia Thompson told KAKE-TV.

The district had reserved about 3,500 hotspots and by Tuesday morning had passed out about 5,300, said Thompson, and will continue to provide them as they become available.

On Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly expressed concern the number of confirmed coronavirus cases would soar as more schools reopen.

State health officials said as of Friday, colleges accounted for 27 coronavirus outbreaks and 420 cases, but no deaths. Five school clusters have resulted in 39 cases and no deaths, according to the latest numbers available.

Health officials said Tuesday that it was too soon to tell if a large motorcycle rally held at Perry Lake will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The five-day event, which ended Monday, was criticized last week by the state’s top health official, Dr. Lee Norman, who cited it as an example of how Kansans might be relaxing their coronavirus-related safety practices too soon.

The rally’s organizer, Abate of Kansas Inc., did not know Tuesday how many people attended the event, which had been projected to draw at least 5,000 people. The group’s vice president, Byron Harden, said masks were not required but were available for purchase, and Jefferson County provided 5,000 masks. Hand sanitizers and hand washing stations also were provided.

Byron said attendees used about 16% of the masks local government officials provided, but some had brought their own masks.

Also on Tuesday, Kelly announced the state will receive $63 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The money will be available only to those receiving at least $100 in unemployment benefits and the payments won’t be distributed any sooner than late September, the governor’s office said in a news release. People who claim the benefit will have to certify that they are unemployed or partially employed specifically because of problems caused by the coronavirus.

The payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1 and will remain in effect until FEMA ends the Lost Wages Assistance program.

And on Monday, Kelly said she planned to seek renewal of a state COVID-19 emergency declaration, which is set to expire next week. Under a compromise with the Republican-led Legislature reached in June the State Finance Council must approve such extensions, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Kelly noted the state continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases, with 1,694 more confirmed cases reported Monday, along with four deaths.

“We still have an emergency here,” Kelly said. “Just because Sept. 15 comes does not mean that the emergency is going to go away. It is absolutely imperative that we extend the declaration.”

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