Missouri lawmakers question state health, education officials over school reopening plan

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KY3) – Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams told lawmakers going back to school in two weeks, in the middle of a global pandemic, could be hard.

”If a student is identified, people, naturally, who go to school there, would be concerned that another student or a teacher has a case of COVID,” Williams said during a hearing Tuesday morning.

While agreeing the education is essential, some lawmakers doubted the state’s plan to allow districts to give an in-person option this fall. They say too much is still unknown about the virus and its long term effects.

”Right now, we’re going to get sick, and we may get tired, we may have to go to the hospital, we may have to be on a ventilator, but down the road, I could have a heart disease…why are we ok with sending kids back to school,” questioned Rep. Matt Sain, D-Kansas City.

Williams responded, saying the state believes going back to school, and getting an education is important.

”But it’s not important if my kid is dead,” Sain added.

”No, no. Absolutely not,” said Williams.

State Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said giving parents and students the choice of in-person or virtual learning is the right thing to do.

She said not everyone who wants to keep their child home from the classroom has the capabilities to learn from home.

”The digital divide that exists in Missouri is very real, and we need to solve that as a state,” Vandeven said.

One in five students don’t have internet access at home in the state, according to Vandeven. So, going to class is the best option.

The state is using nearly $10 million from the CARES Act specifically for improving access for students to learn from home. Vandeven said she wants counties to chip in and use their CARES Act funds to match what the state is giving to help students get the access they need.

“How do we best reach our kids, how do we best continue to serve our children at this very challenging time,” Vandeven asked.

During the hearing, Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, asked Vandeven why all schools aren’t required to have students and staff wear masks. She said it’s best left up to individual districts and counties to decide. 

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