TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – State education leaders released new recommendations for returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday.

The Kansas Department of Education presented updated guidelines for local districts to choose whether to follow just days before some students return to school.

Members of the state board of education voted 9-0 to approve the changes reopening guidelines that were approved last month.

The guidance was developed by education and health leaders after schools asked for metrics to help determine if and when it’s necessary to switch from in-person to online classes.

The ideal way is that all Pre-K through high school students be in person. But officials said that isn’t realistic for some, especially for larger communities.

“You’re going to be operating in this in-and-out environment for a long time because you’re going to have an outbreak and you’re going to want to take precautions, and then you’re going to roll out of that, and that could even be true in our sparsely populated counties,” Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said.

What a school should do depends on criteria like the amount of students missing school, number of new cases and trends in the county and local hospital capacity.

“When you look at all these things together, then this gives the districts a better way to work with the county health department to determine what is safe for our kids,” board of education member Ann Mah said.

If school leaders start to see numbers going in the wrong direction, schools can adjust by changing to more online classes, limiting visitors, or cancelling activities and sports.

“They’re going to have to balance what it is we would really like to be doing, versus what we ought to be doing that is safe for kids, and it’ll be a big balancing act,” Mah said.

The recommendations put an emphasis on keeping students in fifth grade or lower in-person more than older students. This is because they may not be as affected by the virus and it’s especially important to get them a quality education.

“They’re in the early developmental stages of learning. Social, emotional, appropriate play, self-regulating, phonics, your fist letters, and if you miss that or have to go remote with that, it’s not an ideal environment, if you have to, you have to,” Watson said. “That’s a little bit different than if you’re a junior taking American history.”

The department of education also updated its guidance for masks, recommending everyone over the age of two wear a mask. Officials said results are showing that young kids are better at wearing their mask than first thought. This is now in sync with the governor’s executive order that requires all students wear a mask while in school.

The criteria that the department presented for districts is below.