COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released reopening and operating guidance for schools as the start of the Fall 2021 semester is just four weeks away.
The Covid-19 safety measures that are being recommended, are all in light of safely returning to full in-person instruction as the top priority.
Governor Parson tweeted after the guidance was released. "Our children benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in fall 2021 is a top priority for our administration."
Parson also added that last school year, more than 85% of schools across the state safely returning to in-person learning, and the state is looking to build on that progress.
Brent Ghan with the Missouri School Board Association said in-person learning is the most effective way that most kids learn. Ghan said he doesn't know of any school district in the state that is planning to start the year in a different model, but he is expecting the Covid-19 restrictions to vary.
DESE is recommending social distancing of at least 3 feet between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask-wearing by unvaccinated individuals, to reduce transmission risks.
"Local school boards and administrators are simply going to have to evaluate their local transmission rates and other data and work closely with their local public health agencies in order to develop a policy on masking that is appropriate for their communities," Ghan said.
DESE refers to vaccinations as the, "leading public health prevention strategy to end the Covid-19 pandemic." The guidance says that promoting vaccines can help schools safely maintain in-person learning.
Because of this, Todd Fuller, spokesman for the Missouri State Teacher's Association, said "School districts need to make sure that there are opportunities for teachers, for support staff, and even for students who are older than 12-years-old to be vaccinated."
Although districts may start with certain policies in place, Ghan says they could easily change as Covid-19 numbers vary throughout the school year.
"We put some plans in place as a state last year. There are still some things that will change over the course of the next 2-4 months. Hopefully, we see the positivity go down and that will allow for a little more flexibility when it comes to what takes place in a school district," Fuller said.
DESE is recommending districts to keep up with screening testing and contact tracing. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is offering K-12 local education agencies the opportunity to participate in a screening testing program using a pooled testing approach during the 2021-22 school year.
Columbia Public Schools did recently decide to return to masks for students 12 and under for the last two weeks of the summer session. A decision for masking during the fall semester will be made in the coming weeks.