Elle Moxley | KBIA

Elle Moxley

Elle covers education for KCUR. The best part of her job is talking to students. Before coming to KCUR in 2014, Elle covered Indiana education policy for NPR’s StateImpact project. Her work covering Indiana’s exit from the Common Core was nationally recognized with an Edward R. Murrow award. Her work at KCUR has been recognized by the Missouri Broadcasters Association and the Kansas City Press Club. She is a graduate of the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism. Elle regularly tweets photos of her dog, Kingsley. There is a wounded Dr. Ian Malcolm bobblehead on her desk.

The U-S-D-A approved Missouri’s application for additional federal food aid for low-income children Monday.

It’s money meant to pay for meals students would’ve eaten at school in March, April and May. But the Missouri Department of Social Services won’t say how much assistance eligible families will receive. Brent Schondelmeyer of the Local Investment Commission, a Kansas City nonprofit, says there are low-income families who haven’t received any pandemic aid yet.

The economic downturn caused by the coronavirus could roll back state investments in pre-K made since the last recession.

That’s the dire warning in the latest preschool yearbook from the National Institute for Early Education Research, which looks at states’ spending on pre-K during the 2018-19 school year.

Updated, 4:40 p.m. Tuesday – The economic fallout from COVID-19 could cost the University of Missouri System $180 million, triggering layoffs, furloughs and other cost-cutting measures.

“The problems that we see based on the reductions in state support, also the softness in enrollment in the fall, and how the market is doing in terms of our investment outcomes, we expect a significant downtown for the university,” President Mun Choi said Tuesday during a virtual town hall for University of Missouri faculty and staff, “and that does require structural changes.”

When metro schools closed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Park Hill South High School teacher Laura Lenhert knew her students wouldn’t be content watching other people make art.

“At first, we were just going to have them watch videos and write about it,” said Lenhert, who teaches ceramics, “but at the same time we were like, they want to make art. They don’t want to just write about what other people are doing.”

So Lenhert gave her students an unusual assignment: carve a bar of soap. 

David Kovaluk / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri schools will not reopen for the remainder of the academic year, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday afternoon.

"I am ordering all Missouri public and charter schools to remain closed through the remainder of this academic year with the exceptions of nutrition services and child care that are outlined in our recent health order," Parson said.

Missouri schools will not reopen for the remainder of the academic year, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday afternoon.

"I am ordering all Missouri public and charter schools to remain closed through the remainder of this academic year with the exceptions of nutrition services and child care that are outlined in our recent health order," Parson said.

Updated, 4:45 p.m. Thursday Missouri schools will not reopen for the remainder of the academic year, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday afternoon.

"I am ordering all Missouri public and charter schools to remain closed through the remainder of this academic year with the exceptions of nutrition services and child care that are outlined in our recent health order," Parson said.

Child care providers in the metro have been allowed to stay open in order to watch the kids of essential workers who still need to do their jobs.

But advocates worry the child care workers themselves, many of whom are low paid and don’t have health insurance, are working through the COVID-19 crisis without a safety net.

“It’s not a question of if somebody gets sick taking care of other people’s children, it’s a question of when,” said Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet. 

The spring semester is when most soon-to-be educators do their student teaching, but now they’re trying to figure out distance learning even as their own education has been interrupted.

Moriah Stonehocker is in her final semester at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a student teacher at J. A Rogers Elementary in Kansas City Public Schools.

“It's 2 p.m., so I should be at recess right now with my kids, but I'm here at home,” she said last week.

Even when the National World War I Museum and Memorial is open, the majority of its vast holdings aren’t on public display but stored for safekeeping.

Now, with a metro-wide stay-at-home order keeping the Kansas City museum closed until at least April 24, museum employees who usually work with guests are helping transcribe about 10,000 digitized pages from letters, diaries and journals.

Missouri has postponed April municipal elections until June, a decision that could have a long-term impact on metro school districts asking voters to approve bonds for construction projects.

North Kansas City Schools, the state’s third largest school district, needs to replace two elementary schools, build an early childhood center and add on to Staley High School. There’s also a backlog of deferred maintenance at the district’s oldest school buildings. 

With schools around the metro closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, food service directors in Kansas and Missouri have taken on a daunting logistical challenge: how to feed hungry kids until it’s safe for them to go back to class.

Updated: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Kansas City, Missouri, announced its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon.

At a news conference broadcast by KCTV-5, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said people should continue practicing social distancing.

“In some ways, we were a bit surprised by the amount of time it took to officially arrive but we certainly recognize that we are at a point now where I think folks need to even double down further … following those good hygiene practices,” Lucas said.

COVID-19 quarantines are creating an unprecedented blood shortage across the U.S., and it's unlike anything blood centers in the Kansas City region have seen before.

“An unintended consequence of people taking shelter at home, of people not coming into work, is that they're also not coming to the blood drives. They're not coming to our donor centers,” said Chelsey Smith, spokeswoman for the Community Blood Center in Kansas City. “And that's resulting in a completely separate public health emergency.”

Updated, 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

Gov. Laura Kelly has closed every school in Kansas for the remainder of the school year in an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We understand that canceling classes and moving to a continuous learning platform cannot replicate” what happens in Kansas schools, Kelly said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

A day earlier, most Kansas City area school districts announced they would close until at least April 5.

Not sure how to talk to your kids about the novel coronavirus?

You’re not alone, says Christina Low Kapalu, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Mercy. “It comes up with a lot of things that we’ve encountered, like mass shootings and terrorism events. Anytime there’s a big media event that causes a lot of worry, parents ask about how they can talk to their kids in developmentally appropriate ways.”

Anticipating that coronavirus quarantines will strain the social safety net, Kansas City food pantries, soup kitchens and schools are coming up with contingency plans.

Educators who’ve taught in Lee’s Summit for a long time are frustrated that repeated salary freezes mean they’re making less than colleagues who are new to the district. 

Jessica Hill, a Lee’s Summit West history teacher, says she makes $3,500 less than her husband, also a teacher in the district, even though they both have master’s degrees and nine years of experience.

After several tumultuous years during which the school district’s first black superintendent abruptly resigned, Lee’s Summit voters will again be electing new school board members this April. 

Updated, 9:30 a.m. Thursday, March 19

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus being diagnosed in Kansas and Missouri is going up, and one elderly man in Wyandotte County has died from the disease.

Update: 2:30 p.m. Monday 

Kansas’ single confirmed coronavirus patient has been admitted to the University of Kansas Health Systems hospital.

The Johnson County woman, who was announced to have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on Saturday, was admitted to the Kansas City, Kansas, hospital after self-isolating at home.

The Shawnee Mission School District has reached an agreement with the teachers union to move all teachers to the same contract for the current school year.

The agreement was reached Thursday and came after a bitter, months-long dispute over teacher pay and workload that ended with the state stepping in.

A bitter contract dispute has driven a wedge between the Shawnee Mission teachers’ union and some of the school board members the union has helped get elected in recent years.

After the Kansas Department of Labor intervened last month, tossing out the final two years of a three-year contract the school board approved over the union’s objections, the two sides are trying to come together to negotiate a contract for next school year.

Kansas and Missouri are at low risk for the coronavirus, but schools in the Kansas City metro are having “robust conversations” about how to protect students in case an outbreak occurs in the U.S. 

Their solutions include teleschool, a way to disinfect a whole classroom at a time and the old standby: If you’re sick, stay home.

The Kansas Department of Labor has sided with the teachers union in an ongoing contract dispute with the Shawnee Mission School District.

The Department of Labor found that the district committed a “prohibited labor practice” when it imposed a three-year unilateral contract on teachers late last month.

The labor board’s ruling came just minutes before a 4 p.m. deadline for teachers to sign that contract. Only one teacher had tendered her resignation as of mid-afternoon Friday, according to a district spokesman. Most teachers had already signed the three-year contract.

Updated, 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11: Hickman Mills Superintendent Yolanda Cargile is leaving her post to take the top job in the neighboring Center School District. 

Cargile announced her resignation in a letter sent to Hickman Mills parents last week.

The fourth grader in Amanda Whiting’s chair had never been to the dentist, so she was a little nervous to be seen at the clinic at her school, J.A. Rogers Elementary.

“We don't use scary terms when we are treating a kiddo,” said Whiting, the dental director at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, which runs the clinic for Kansas City Public Schools.

Hundreds of students at Shawnee Mission East High School walked out of school Friday to show support for teachers after the school board imposed a three-year, unilateral contract on Thursday.

Teachers began the school year without a contract, and negotiations have been at an impasse for months. A five-hour bargaining session on Tuesday ended with a lawyer representing the school district walking away from the table.

Kansas schools had 800 vacant positions last year, and the lack of certified teachers has some districts trying to get people who want to change careers into the classroom.

Breanna Lovett got her bachelor’s degree in forensic biology, but she didn’t love working overnight in a lab. So when she learned the Kansas City, Kansas, Public, Schools had a fellowship program that would let her teach while she earned a master’s degree, she decided to apply.

After six weeks of training, she was in her own classroom at Washington High School.

Negotiators for the Shawnee Mission School District and the teachers union are at an impasse and will now present their cases to a neutral party.

On one side are teachers who feel overworked and underpaid. On the other side are school administrators who say the union’s demands will ultimately put the district in the red. It’s a dispute with deep roots in the Great Recession and all the years Kansas seriously underfunded schools, happening amidst a national conversation on teacher pay.

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