KCK school board approves vaccination and testing policy

A policy on vaccinations and testing for staff and volunteers was approved at the Tuesday night, Oct. 12, Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education meeting.

Under the policy approved Tuesday night, staff and on-site volunteers will be “highly encouraged” to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on or before Dec. 3.

The date was extended from a proposal that was approved at an earlier meeting. It was the third reading for the policy. The Dec. 3 date for vaccinations to be on file is a little later than the original proposal.

Those who don’t have proof of full vaccination, which is two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, or one shot of Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine, on file by Dec. 3 would be required to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing, according to the policy.

Those who do not comply with the policy would be subject to the district’s progressive discipline policy, administrators said. It starts with a verbal warning, then goes to a written warning and through more steps, according to the district’s administrator guide and its negotiated agreement.

All staff who provide proof of vaccination would receive five additional sick leave days to their 2021-2022 school year contract under the new policy.

A maximum of 14 sick days would be covered if a staff member is out sick with COVID-19 from a work exposure, according to the new policy.

Testing would be held at each school site and at other sites in the district, according to Stephen Linkous, chief of staff.

He said pilot testing would be held at specific sites prior to the system-wide rollout. That rollout would be the week of Dec. 6.

He said test results should be available within about 24 hours. Student athletes also would be tested weekly under the policy.

The vote was 6-1, with board member Wanda Paige voting no.

Paige said she supported stronger language mandating the COVID vaccinations instead of “highly encouraging” them. It is a public health issue, and staff should be required to get the COVID vaccinations, she believes.

According to Linkous, some principals came forward to request that if a staff member receives five days of sick leave but doesn’t use them, that they could be reimbursed at $750, or $150 a day, if they don’t use the sick days.

The board discussed the idea, but Dr. Stacy Yeager, a board member, said she was concerned about the $1.5 million cost of that part of the program.

She said maybe the district could consider reducing those days from five to two or three days for reimbursement.

Dr. Anna Stubblefield, superintendent, said the only comparable district in the area is Kansas City, Missouri, as other districts have not implemented vaccines and testing or strongly encouraged it.

Dr. Stubblefield said the local Kansas National Education Association shared that other districts across the country were using incentives such as the five days of sick leave.

Paige said the district should be able to be compensated for reimbursements it gives staff for sick days through the federal funding that it has received for COVID.

Dr. Stubblefield said the funding could come from the federal Esser funds from the CARES Act that the district has received, since it is directly related to COVID, and it would not affect the general fund.

However, the board did not act on the idea of reimbursing staff members $750 who did not use their five days of sick leave. They could discuss this idea again at a future meeting, according to board members.

Dr. Stubblefield said the district also is looking at testing student athletes on a regular basis, and a grant is available through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Linkous also reported that the district’s COVID numbers have improved.

There were 25 students who tested positive from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, he said. Six staff members tested positive for the same week.

Year to date, there were 378 students who tested positive, and 89 staff members who tested positive, he said.

In other action, Board President Randy Lopez recused himself and did not vote on a motion to approve a Wyandotte Health Foundation grant agreement. The $125,000 grant is from Wyandotte Health Foundation to the school district to fund a “trauma-sensitive school district.” The grant provides training for district employees for a preventive approach to trauma when a student exhibits emotional distress. Lopez is the vice president for community programs for Wyandotte Health Foundation.

Board considering whether some KCK schools and mascots should get new names

Should the Arrowhead Middle School Apaches get a new name?

What about Washington High School, named after the nation’s first President, George Washington, who owned slaves?

Or Lindbergh Elementary, named after Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator who was thought to be a Nazi sympathizer? Or Frances Willard Elementary, named for a suffragist who may not have always supported the right of African-American women to vote?

During the past year, the school board has heard comments about some of these schools from patrons who wanted to change their names.

On Tuesday night, the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education unanimously appointed a committee to review name and mascot requests and make a recommendation to the board. The committee will decide if the names or mascots are offensive to others.

During discussion Tuesday night, board members said the committee might appoint subcommittees to discuss each school being reviewed individually. Each school where a change is considered almost needs its own committee because of the amount of work involved, board member Wanda Paige said.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, district officials did not mention any names of schools where a change might be in the works. Instead, they said a list of schools would be emailed later to school board members.

However, one community request was read in a letter at the July 21, 2020, school board meeting.

Amiel Green II suggested changing the name of Washington High School, which he attended, to Michelle Obama High School. His reason was that George Washington owned slaves. (See story at
http://www.wyandottedaily.com/should-washington-high-school-change-its-name-to-michelle-obama-high-school/.)

At the time, the idea of changing Washington High School’s name met with a lot of comments online against it.

School board members said at that time they had received requests to change other school names as well, such as Lindbergh Elementary and Willard Elementary.

See earlier story at http://www.wyandottedaily.com/should-washington-high-school-change-its-name-to-michelle-obama-high-school/.

KCK school board changes academic eligibility requirements for athletes

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Board of Education amended the athletic eligibility policy on Tuesday night.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Board of Education voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to approve changes to academic eligibility requirements for athletes and for students involved in activities.

The new policy amendment calls for athletes who are failing or whose grades are below a C average to have a student support plan in place at their school in order to practice or play. The students who do not follow their student support plan would not be allowed to practice or play, according to the policy.

The plan calls for students to attend after-school tutoring for 30 minutes before they go to practice. Also, weekly grade checks are part of the program.

Those students who do not participate in the student support plan would not be allowed to practice or play, according to the policy.

School board members discussed whether or not the students would be required to bring their grades up within a certain time period, such as two or four weeks.

Board member Dr. Valdenia Winn, who voted against the policy change, said an end time was not clearly stated in the written policy. Dr. Winn said there were internal contradictions in the policy.

She said she was for a policy with more accountability.

Tammie Romstad, the district’s athletic director, said if students who need to bring up their grades do not make an appointment to work with their teachers the next week, they would not get to play.

Romstad said she surveyed districts in Wyandotte County, and that other districts did not have any eligibility policies different from Kansas State High School Athletic Association on their websites. The KCK district had stricter eligibility guidelines than KSHSAA. The KSHSAA guidelines are measured by grades at semester, according to officials.

Romstad said she was a proponent of setting higher standards. However, there has been a difference in getting assignments done and graded, caused by quarantines, she said.

She said the athletic directors at schools would be sending her weekly reports on grades, and she would review them. If the student support plan for each individual wasn’t working, it would be modified, she said.

Stephen Linkous, chief of staff, said they went to weekly grade checks two years ago, and the students’ grades greatly improved,prior to COVID.

“This does bring a positive push to keep students engaged,” Linkous said.

Dr. Stacy Yeager, a board member, supported the change in eligibility policy.

“Students and coaches are doing everything possible to do the best they can do,” Dr. Yeager said.

Parents are telling board members to give them policies similar to their counterparts, Dr. Yeager said.

Board Vice President Yolanda Clark said a lot of kids need their coaches, and when they remove students from the coaches, they set them up to fail.

Board member Wanda Paige said students should be required to keep their grades up in order to play, and that federal funds are available to help athletes with mental health counseling.

She suggested making mental health counseling a part of the SSP program, “because something is obviously wrong.” However, the board did not amend it to add mental health counseling.

Voting yes for the eligibility policy change were Yolanda Clark, Maxine Drew, Janey Humphries, Randy Lopez and Stacy Yeager. Voting no were Wanda Paige and Valdenia Winn.

The issue also was voted upon in September, with a similar result. It was a “third reading” for the policy.