Gov. Laura Kelly is recommending all schools enact universal masking policies and work with community stakeholders to implement robust testing plans. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — New guidance Friday from Gov. Laura Kelly ahead of the start of classes recommends schools actively plan vaccination clinics, implement universal masking policies and create a robust testing plan for faculty and students.
The updated guidance also requests that students in classrooms and school other settings maintain 3 feet of physical distance, but states this recommendation should not be a barrier to keeping students from in-person learning. When distancing is not possible, Kelly recommends schools ensure other preventative measures and guidance, like wear masks, are in place.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has recommended masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status. This includes on school premises and all forms of public transportation.
“We know our children belong in the classroom, but it’s critical that we provide Kansas school districts with support and tools they need to keep our kids safe,” Kelly said. “I encourage school districts to follow the science and use the available funds to keep their kids safe.”
To maintain in-person learning amid rising case numbers, the additions to the Kansas State Department of Education guidance mirror direction from the CDC, Kelly said. She said school guidance will be updated as warranted by changes in fighting COVID-19.
KDHE reported 2,001 new COVID-19 cases and eight new deaths since Wednesday, bringing Kansas to 332,933 total cases and 5,255 deaths since the onset of the pandemic last year.
Kelly is also calling on schools to partner with local health departments and stakeholders to create vaccination and testing clinics to ensure students and staff can remain face-to-face. She said the guidance is in line with best practices learned over the past year and incorporates information available on fighting the COVID-19 Delta variant.
“We want every student to be in the classroom this fall,” said Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. “To ensure this happens, school districts should continue partnering with their local medical teams to implement safety protocols that protect all students and school personnel.”
Kelly and KSDE are also encouraging school districts to submit requests for $87 million total in ELC Grant Funds. The funds were funneled to Kansas to pay for equipment, testing and medical staff to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
The money also can be used for clinical and administrative staff, as well as equipment to support testing plans or vaccination events. In rural areas, requests so far have included transportation to share between staff or to move sick children.
“To ensure everyone remains safe as schools resume in August, it is key for schools and communities to work together,” said KDHE secretary Lee Norman. “We urge school districts to use the ELC resources for additional support, and we encourage communities to continue taking precautions to mitigate the virus, including vaccination and testing.”
Mark Desetti, of the Kansas National Education Association, said the funds would prove critical to keeping schools safe from COVID-19 and the variants. He said attention and funds should especially be directed to elementary schools, where children are not yet able to be vaccinated.
“We’re going to have schools open but to do that we have to continue to be vigilant and take the fact, frankly, that more kids are being affected by Delta than were by the other variations seriously,” Desetti said.
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