Earlier this week, the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education approved a plan for students to return to school on Aug. 26 with extensive coronavirus health and safety precautions, as well as a remote learning option for students.

Although Crawford County Public Health Officer Timothy Stebbins participated in the Pittsburg school board meeting Monday where those plans were approved, at Tuesday’s county commission meeting he said the county might benefit from issuing a public health order that would be less restrictive in some areas than Gov. Laura Kelly’s order requiring masks in schools.

“We, as we’ve discussed in previous meetings, agree with the mask coverings throughout the county essentially, but we have some caveats,” Stebbins said.

“For the kids in the age group of 12 and older we think it should be mandatory, right, as the order states. For kids in grades 3 through 5 we strongly recommend masks, but in kids K through 2 the data is not really clear, and in fact the data would suggest that they neither get high infection rates nor are highly transmissible in that age group. We do know that it can be a little more challenging in that age group to keep masks on.”

Stebbins said the county commission might want to consider issuing an order that would be less restrictive in terms of mask rules for the youngest students, although he added that in some situations, such as when students are on a school bus, all of them should be required to wear masks.

While the Pittsburg school board’s plan approved Monday called for students to have their temperature checked before entering school buildings, Stebbins questioned whether this could realistically be done and whether it would be beneficial or desirable, especially when the weather gets colder and students might be lined up outside waiting for their temperature check.

In response to a question from Commissioner Jeremy Johnson, Stebbins said conditions that could lead county health officials to re-evaluate their assessment could include data indicating a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger children, either locally or elsewhere, or data showing that temperature checks were highly effective in detecting COVID-19.

County Counselor Jim Emerson said he thought the county would be within its authority in issuing a less restrictive order than Gov. Kelly’s.

“I think we’re on solid ground to implement our own order,” he said.

Although the commissioners did not approve a new public health order Tuesday, they asked Emerson to draft an order, which Stebbins would review, for potential approval at Friday’s commission meeting.