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Bill would require Kansas schools to fully reopen next month

Kansas capitol
Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 18:43:31-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas schools would be required to offer full, in-person instruction starting March 26 under a bill that was introduced Friday.

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson said in news release announcing the bill that students must not continue to "languish in virtual learning."

The state Department of Education recommended this week that school districts allow middle and high school students resume full-time in-person instruction if precautions are taken.

Several of the state's largest districts have been offering in-person classes only part-time for middle and high-schoolers or teaching students only online.

"Kansas parents have been patient, but they have seen their children struggling and they have had enough," Masterson said. "It's time to do what is desperately needed and get Kansas kids back to school."

Marcus Baltzell, a spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, said he hadn't yet had a chance to review the bill.

But he noted: "Schools have been open since the beginning but returning to in-person instruction in a time of a pandemic should happen when it is safe to do so according to the medical experts. That has been our position all along and that will continue to be our position."

The state is currently inoculating teachers as part of its second round of vaccinations, which also extended eligibility to people ages 65 and older, prisoners and essential workers such as law enforcement officers.

The second phase covers as many as 1 million of the state's 2.9 million residents.

As of Friday, 9.4% of the state's population had been vaccinated, with 273,428 people receiving at least the first of two required doses, state health data showed.

Gov. Laura Kelly said the state is anticipating getting 90,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, double what the state was receiving just two weeks ago,

"We are continuing to urge the federal government to increase the number of vaccines we receive and they are actually doing so," Kelly said in her biweekly call with elected officials.

The number of cases has dropped dramatically in recent weeks. The state's health department added 1,208 new confirmed cases from Wednesday to Friday, pushing the state's pandemic total to 286,102. The number of deaths rose by 61 to 4,364.

The number of hospitalized patients also is dropping and staffing problems are improving as the rollout continues.

Lee Norman, the head of the state's health department, said that one hospital had seen the number of staff members who were out because of COVID-19 illnesses or quarantines drop into the single digits from an average of 80 to 90.

"Staff are back and healthy and absenteeism is extremely low," Norman said.