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When Schools Reopen This Fall, Students And Staff In Wyandotte County May Be Required To Wear Face Masks To Ward Off Coronavirus

Elle Moxley
Students in Kansas, like these at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kansas, were the first in the nation to be put under statewide stay-at-home orders when Gov. Laura Kelly closed schools in March.

The Unified Government's guidelines for K-12 and higher education facilities right now recommends anyone on a school campus wear a face covering.

Wyandotte County health officials are considering a new set of safety guidelines for students returning to campus in the the fall.

School districts across the county, in partnership with the Unified Government Public Health Department, released guidance this week for K-12, and higher education facilities to follow for the 2020-2021 school year.

Dr. Allen Greiner, Chief Medical Officer with the UG, says the department came up with the guidelines in response to feedback from educators wanting to get students back in the classroom.

“We must work to strike a balance between protecting the immediate health of our community members by reducing the spread of COVID-19, while providing quality education, which we know has longer-term health impacts on individuals and our community as a whole,” said Greiner.

In March, Kansas' public schools were the first in the nation to close statewide in light of the spread of COVID-19. Charles Foust, the Superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, told KCUR at the time that the transition to virtual learning didn’t come easy to some students and parents.

“Parents, at that point, were being told that you're going to be a teacher and I think that provided some anxiety. However, we knew that safety was the first measure that we wanted to take into place,” said Foust.

The Unified Government Public Health Department is also erring on the side of caution and has extended Phase 3 of its reopening plan until at least July 6. Since the department does not know what phase the county will be in when the school year starts, it says the guidelines are open to change.

“We could find ourselves at different reopening phases over the course of the school year. This additional guidance will help our schools keep their students, faculty, and staff as safe as possible, no matter what reopening phase we are in,” said Dr. Erin Corriveau, the UG's Deputy Medical Officer.

The newly released Education ReStart WyCo Plan will cover social distancing standards for each reopening phase, from Stay At Home, to Phases 1-3, to Phase Out. The health department has released examples of Phase 3 guidelines for Wyandotte County education facilities.

For early childhood care and education:

  • Children who live with those who are senior-aged or immunocompromised should not be in child care, if possible.
  • Children should be cared for in rooms of 25 or fewer with the same caregiver and group of children each day
  • Staff and children aged two or older may wear face coverings

For K-12 schools:

  • Parents and guardians can choose for their child not to return to school, and online options should be offered, when possible.
  • Schools will reopen at normal capacity for instruction and activities.
  • Student athletics may resume within Kansas State High Schools Activities Association guidelines. (A high school athlete in south-central Kansas tested positive for COVID-19 this week.)
  • Each grade level will share lunch and recess time and limit interaction with other grade levels.
  • Masks or face coverings are recommended for employees, visitors, and students.

For higher education facilities:

  • Most education will continue virtually, but hands-on learning will be offered with social distancing to alternate students.
  • Workspaces and common areas will be adjusted to maintain 6-foot social distancing.
  • Employees, students, and visitors are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings at all times.

While the use of face masks is only a recommendation right now, the UG health department says it may end up being requiring them if deemed necessary.

“Data we are seeing from other countries shows an increased risk of the virus spreading in schools when masks aren’t worn. Some countries had to close schools again as a result. Wearing masks will give us a better chance of keeping schools open for longer,” said Corriveau.

More information and updates on Wyandotte County’s Education ReStart program will be made available on the county’s website.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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