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Kansas education officials weigh ‘back to school’ safety measures; What to know as kids return

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Safety is a top priority for Kansas education officials as students return to school.

The Kansas State Board of Education met Tuesday to discuss their “back to school” reopening plan. Meanwhile, some school officials are prepping teachers for a highly anticipated reopening.

“The building feels right when the students are here,” said Angela Pomeroy, Principal of Jardine Elementary in Topeka. “There’s just a different air. There’s a different feeling.”

After a year of chaos for some teachers and students adjusting to remote learning, Pomeroy said she’s excited to get back to the classroom.

Jardine Elementary will be reopening with mask requirements in place to keep younger students safe, which is something Pomeroy said most parents and teachers have welcomed as they try to keep new coronavirus cases from spreading.

“Getting through all that we got through last year, I think has helped build the confidence from our families that we’ll be able to keep everyone safe this year,” she said.

Other school districts have also opted to adhere to safety guidance reiterated by state leaders.

According to state health officials, about 35% of kids 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. The number is steadily increasing. The state health department’s Deputy Secretary for Public Health Ashley Goss said they expect more students to get vaccinated as school starts.

“If kids are eligible to receive the vaccine, so if they’re 12 and up and have not received the vaccine, that would be their best preventative measure,” she said.

Goss pointed to other safety measures to prevent spread, like wearing masks, for people that have not yet been vaccinated.

While school districts in some other states require teachers to get vaccinated, a spokesperson for the state school board told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday that no schools in Kansas have taken that step.

State law only requires schools to enforce vaccinations that the state health secretary lists. The coronavirus vaccine is not on that list, but state health officials are encouraging people that are eligible to get the vaccine, especially as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

As far as safety measures, the state board of education provides safety recommendations for schools and what’s enforced is determined at the local level.

Like Marcus Baltzell, a representative for the Kansas National Education Association, said, it’s important for people to do what’s necessary to keep students and teachers in school.

“In places where vaccines, masks, and distancing, and all of the mitigation measures are a priority, then we see these incidents and, certainly, the interruptions that come with it declining.”

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