KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As of Monday, Aug. 9, the Kansas City, Missouri, Public School district is the only district in the metro that will require their teachers and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 23, or do weekly testing.
One board member wants to take it further and will ask the board to consider requiring the vaccine for students 12 and up.
"As we look at this empty playground, this is what we're going to have to contemplate doing - yes or no - going virtual again, going back to vacant schools if we don't take this pandemic seriously," Manny Abarca said, who has been a KCPS board member since 2019.
Abarca expects to get support but isn't sure if the board will decide anything at the meeting on Wednesday.
"I think that's the necessary step in this current pandemic we have to take," Abarca said. "And it's not something new or uncommon; this is something we already require. We already require vaccines for different diseases that have eradicated those diseases, but this is not new."
Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards said boards would have to come into an agreement with their teachers unions to make vaccines a requirement.
He said the law isn't clear.
"Unless there was greater clarity, a board that wanted to take these action certainly could be challenged and it would ultimately be up to the court or the legislature to come and resolve," Tallman said.
KSHB 41 News reached out to 26 school districts on both sides of the state line. The 15 who responded all said they're not considering a vaccine requirement. Some districts said they are "highly encouraging" their staff to get vaccinated.
The 15 districts that responded are:
North Kansas City
KCKPS and Lee's Summit said they've held vaccine clinics and the majority of their staff is already vaccinated.
The Kansas National Education Association said their teachers want to be in the classroom long-term and are worried what will happen if school districts ease off.
"That's really what we're doing here, trying to make this the best school year it possibly can be even with the delta variant coming," Marcus Baltzell said, spokesperson for the KNEA. "And the way we do that is, we take these very reasonable, safe, common-sense measures including vaccines, masks and all the other things the medical experts have said and, quite honestly, have been proven to be effective."
Abarca said KCPS must look at its demographic. The district is made up of mostly Black and Brown students. Vaccinations in those communities have been lower than other groups throughout the pandemic.
"Schools are as safe as we can make them be," Abarca said. "The reality is when you go home, we can't necessarily tell you what you do or don't do there, and a lot of times what we saw, people were contracting the virus outside of schools and bringing it in."