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Blue Springs adapts for new school year

Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net
Cailley Hendricks teaches summer school class.

After metro area public health officials urged school districts to consider pushing the start of school back two weeks, many did exactly that.

Blue Springs School District officials said their decision this week to push the first day of school back to Sept. 8 did not have as much to do with warding off potential cases as preparing a more comprehensive virtual learning program.

“That was the main reason for the decision,” said Assistant Superintendent Bob Jerome. “We’re collecting more data for school registration, and though we’ve asked for (parents’) input, it’s not until you register that you can fully plan.”

“When you’re looking at more so the high schools because they’re so specific with classes, you’re talking thousands of individualized schedules.”

Registration for in-person or virtual learning in the district ends at 5 p.m. Sunday. With initial sign-ups, about 15 percent of students and families chose virtual learning, Jerome said, but of late that figure has pushed toward 25 percent – fairly consistent around the district.

District officials have said if 30 percent of students choose virtual learning, in-person classrooms can be arranged to maintain the ideal six-foot social distance.

“I think we’ll be at 70-30, when all’s said and done,” Jerome said.

He said the district has some hybrid learning options in mind, “but overwhelmingly, it was not a popular discussion,” and the district will simply shift to full virtual learning if the pandemic becomes too severe locally.

“Hybrid presents its own issues, such as child care,” Jerome said.

Students will be able to switch from in-person to virtual learning at any point, but those starting virtually have been asked to commit to a semester before possibly switching back.

Jerome said the district installed Plexiglas in some office spaces and reception areas, and some teachers created barriers of their own to work behind, Jerome said, “but we’ve not universally installed those.”

“Teachers that can maintain six feet or more can teach with a face shield, as we have a number of students that need to be able to read lips,” Jerome said.

Masks are mandated for students and staff, with the exception of lunch and physical education classes.

“Obviously we’d want to be outside as often as possible,” Jerome said of PE classes, and teachers will try to select activities that help with social distancing and perhaps don’t require as much equipment that must be sanitized.

Band and choir classes might have to use some different areas of a school buildings – or in the case of band they could play outdoors at times – but Jerome said the district is still working out those details.

“It really depends on where our numbers end up when registration is complete,” Jerome said.

Students will get their lunch by grab-and-go, and instead of punching in an ID number they will be given an ID card to be scanned.

“There will be no self-serve,” Jerome said, “whereas in the past they could go through the line and pick out their items or make a salad.”

Principals are working out how spacing will happen during lunch periods, as available space is not uniform. High schools, for example, have more large common areas including courtyards.

“It’s really going to depend on the building,” Jerome said. “All the buildings are unique in the number of students online and space available.”

Ideally, students and families who choose in-person learning, knowing the mask mandate, will comply with the various health precautions, Jerome said.

“It starts with communication up front, to making that commitment to wear a mask to keep your peers and teachers safe – that’s the expectation,” he said. “The quicker we can commit to this, the quicker we can get back to ‘normal.’ That’s the reason we provided options for parents.”

Jerome said he couldn’t recall any incident during summer school in which a student had to be disciplined for blatantly disregarded wearing a mask.

“If it does happen, then we have those conversations – calling homes and visiting with parents,” he said. “There will be a case where a student has a significant medical condition where they can’t wear a mask, and we’ll work with that.”

“The last thing anything wants to do is have consequences that are punitive in nature.”