Kansas to focus on COVID-19 shots for teachers, school staff

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters during a news conference about the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas will put a priority on vaccinating teachers and other school staff against COVID-19 so that K-12 students across the state can resume in-person classes as quickly as possible, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday.

The Democratic governor’s announcement came a week after she told leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature that 60% of the state’s 286 school districts had started inoculating teachers. The state’s public schools have about 72,000 staff members, including 34,000 certified teachers.

Kelly said the state will be able to inoculate school staff because it expects the federal government to start next week to ship an additional 25,000 vaccine doses a week. She said the federal government has promised Kansas a total of 115,000 doses a week.

The governor also said the state would make rapid-response COVID-19 testing available to schools as well.

“We want our kids back in the classroom,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference. “We all know that virtual school is not ideal.”

In mid-March 2020, shortly after the pandemic reached Kansas, Kelly ordered K-12 school building closed until the end of the spring semester, and she continues to argue that it was necessary to check the spread of COVID-19. But she faced heavy criticism from Republican lawmakers that the action was too drastic and hurt children’s learning.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, last week introduced a bill that would require the state’s K-12 schools to offer in-person classes to all students starting March 26. Kelly said she hopes “we can get some of them back sooner than that.”

“Some schools have started to do that,” she said. “Some counties have already started to focus on teachers and staff in the schools in anticipation of being able to bring kids back. We all know this has not been a good situation.”

Kelly’s announcement came a day after the Kansas-National Association, the state’s largest teachers union, invited hundreds of teacher-leaders to a Zoom panel discussion in which health experts discussed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines. Marcus Baltzell, a union spokesperson, said at least half of the state’s school districts and possibly more than two-thirds are still doing remote classes at least part-time.

“We are supportive of the governor’s efforts to get vaccine to educators because we know that that is what will help us get back to safe in-person instruction according to the medical experts,” he said.


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