COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended Tuesday that all schools return to full in-person learning in the fall while keeping coronavirus mitigation strategies in place.

Department officials were part of the State Board of Education meeting Tuesday morning and gave an update on the state’s coronavirus pandemic response.

The board approved $50 million to ensure teacher retention. This grant is possible through the federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The investment has two specific goals: attracting individuals to pursue a career in education and keeping high-quality teachers in the profession. The department will make $10,000 grants available to schools to establish or expand programs to do that.

Education department spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said with more schools returning to full in-person learning, mask-wearing and vaccinations become even more important. Some districts have dropped coronavirus precautions such as mask requirements and quarantines for exposed students and staff. Columbia Public Schools has relaxed some restrictions, including having lunch in lunchrooms again and making masks optional outdoors.

“We are not at a point to have a clear answer for parents on if masks will continue to be recommended throughout the 2021-2022 school year, but where we are now shows that they are still needed,” McGowin said.

McGowin said state officials are working with health experts to make vaccinating students age 12 and older possible in the coming days. The FDA authorized Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine for use in children age 12-15 on Monday.

State Board of Education President Charlie Shields said state education leaders have no plans of recommending vaccine requirements for students or staff. He said such a recommendation would come from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and would not happen until the vaccines are fully approved by the FDA.

Shields continues to stress that the local education leaders have full control — state education leaders are responsible for making recommendations.

Check back for more on this developing story and watch ABC 17 news at 5 and 6 p.m.

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