KCPS prepares to vaccinate employees, return to classroom

The Kansas City Public School district (KCPS) announced January 14 that it is preparing to offer vaccinations to all employees and begin the process of bringing students back to school buildings for in-person learning in March.

Truman Medical Center is partnering with KCPS to administer the new COVID-19 vaccine for all school district staff during the month of February. 

“Public health officials have placed a high priority on getting educators vaccinated in order to accelerate a return to in-person learning for schools,” according to a statement from the district. “We will be gathering input from our employees and developing an implementation plan over the next couple of weeks.”

This update was shared with the KCPS Board of Directors during its virtual meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13. This expansion to all staff follows the vaccinations of school nurses this week.

The initial reopening plan created a four tier gating criteria for learning and school safety operations. The “red” tier, where the district remains, has pre-kindergarten through grade 12 learning remotely. To graduate to the “orange” tier, the district would have to see the previous 14 days showing less than 10% positive tests and continued steady or decreasing new cases.

According to the Kansas City, Mo. Health Department, between December 27 and January 9, there was a 33.4% positivity rate in the city, or 1,355 new positive cases.

“We need to get our students back to in-person learning, and we know that the fastest and safest way to do that is through vaccinations,” Superintendent Mark Bedell said. “I am grateful for our public health partners and am personally ready to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Every staff member will be given the opportunity to receive the vaccine in February, which will put them in a position to welcome students back into school buildings for in-person learning in March. 

“From the very beginning of this pandemic, our policy has been to make decisions based on science and data,” according to a statement from the district. “We will continue to follow that policy. That means doing everything possible to maximize the health and wellness of students, families, staff and visitors as we return to in-person teaching and learning.”

In Northeast Kansas City, ZIP code 64123 has a two-week positivity rate of 38.5%, and for 64124 it is 41.5%. In areas with less density surrounding Northeast, in 64120 it is 26.3%, and in 64125 it is 44.1%.

“I am pretty excited to get kids back, I don’t think anyone wants kids not in school,” said Manny Abarca, KCPS Board of Directors Treasurer and representative for Northeast. “The reality, though, is that we want to create a safe environment for not only the kids and their families, but also our staff.”

Though he thinks the vaccination component is critical to preventing spread within the staff, he is concerned for students and their families because younger age groups will not be prioritized.

“There is some level of insecurity I have in returning and knowing the broad public does not have a complete distribution plan for vaccines, and I would say that’s a failure of this administration, both state and federal,” Abarca said. “There are families out there who are more prone to receiving COVID-19 and a lot of those families are within KCPS.” 

Though he doesn’t believe the vaccine could be made mandatory for staff, Abarca said he hopes teachers and staff would find a responsibility to get the vaccine for the best interest of their community, students and their families.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, all KCPS nurses have taken COVID-19 training, including a six-hour contact tracing course, a KCPS COVID procedure course, and a COVID and asthma course. KCPS has a direct line to the Kansas City Health Department and Children’s Mercy if they have any questions or concerns.

The phased reopening plan is still in place, with younger students returning to the classroom first.  

“It’s going to be a lot to do with how fast we can vaccinate staff,” Abarca said, adding that how the vaccination works on mutated forms of the virus is also a factor. “It’s a safe bet to say that we’re focused on some level of kids returning within the March timeframe, so that is a positive thing as long as teachers not only take the vaccine, but are prioritized by the state.”

As of January 14, Missouri moved to begin vaccinating Phase 1B Tier 1, which includes Public Health Administrators and Staff, Law Enforcement, Fire Services, Corrections, Emergency Management, Public Works, Emergency Services, Morticians, Embalmers and other similar professions. Phase 1B Tier 2 includes anyone aged 65 and older, adults with cancer, Chronic Kidney Disease, COPD, Heart Conditions, weakened immune system due to organ transplant, severe obesity, pregnancy, Sickle Cell Disease, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, or individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Kindergarten through grade 12 education staff and childcare workers fall into Phase 1B Tier 3.

Students will have temperatures taken as they enter the building, and each school has designated a quarantine room for students with symptoms. Students will remain in cohorts as much as possible while being required to wear masks, but mask breaks will be given when social distancing can be maintained.More details and specific dates for a return to school buildings as employee vaccinations are administered can be found at www.KCPublicSchools.org.

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