Teachers and staff in Kansas City Public Schools must be vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing when classes start Aug. 23.
Mark Bedell, superintendent of the school district, announced the requirement during a board meeting Thursday. When in-person classes resumed in March, a mask mandate was in effect and never rescinded.
The vaccination requirement is aligned with a county mandate effective Sept. 30. Jackson County executive Frank White Jr. announced July 27 all full-time and part-time county staff must show proof of full vaccination or receive weekly COVID-19 testing.
“We all have a greater responsibility as public servants and that’s what we are as educators,” Bedell said during the board meeting.
Bedell emphasized the responsibility of the school district to exercise proper stewardship of property taxes and other tax revenues while taking proper mitigation actions against infections.
“With that responsibility comes a reasonable expectation that we do everything in our power to be prepared to provide the social, emotional and academic needs of our students,” Bedell said. “We need to be ready to meet the challenges that may come our way. Along with that responsibility, it is critical our school district takes a strong position.”
Bedell reminded the board the state waiver allowing virtual or hybrid learning due to pandemic restrictions is no longer in place. Therefore, he said even more emphasis and importance is being placed on all mitigation practices to keep schools open and keeping students in school.
The school district will provide make vaccinations available at its new teacher orientations. Vaccination clinics are planned at schools in September.
Bedell said the district will follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as it begins the school year. In areas with high transmission rates, the CDC recommends weekly screening for students and staff not fully vaccinated. The district is also adopting the following CDC recommendations:
Masking, physical distancing – to the extent possible – and proper hand hygiene; If students are wearing masks when exposed to a COVID-19 positive person, they won’t need to quarantine if they remain asymptomatic. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated don’t need to quarantine if exposed to someone who is positive if they remain symptomatic.
Bedell said a new policy regarding the use of personal time during required isolation was reached after discussions with the district’s unions. If isolation or quarantine is necessary, staff who are vaccinated and have submitted proof will not be required to use personal leave time; unvaccinated will be required to use personal time.
Bedell said medical and religious exceptions will be accepted and handled by immediate supervisors.
“Not having our students in schools until March 15 was a very difficult experience for all of us,” Bedell said. “There have been some high-profile things going on around the country and here in our region where many families showed up to board meetings opposing mask mandates and things of that nature. We’ve been very fortunate with this community as it has operated with a high level of grace toward this school district.”
Jennifer Wolfsie, a school board member and parent of a student, said the district is in a better position to provide a safe and smooth opening.
“As a parent, I feel comfortable sending my child to school,” Wolfsie said. “For that, I am grateful. I know these will not be the end of our challenges.”