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New county COVID rules might end school lawsuit

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

After the Jackson County Health Department released revised attendance guidelines Friday afternoon, Monday’s scheduled trial for the Blue Springs School District’s lawsuit against the Health Department was canceled, according to court records.

The district says it’s prepared to drop the suit if the county approves the district's attendance plans.

The district sued the county last month regarding its 100-person attendance limit for outdoor gatherings, after the department threatened sanctions for future district events when the district hosted a football game at Blue Springs High School, where the Peve Stadium capacity is about 5,000, with a reported 430 people in attendance.

With the new guidelines released Friday, outdoor gatherings of greater than 100 people will be permitted, with protocols and with a plan approved by the county.

Presuming the district’s protocols and plans are approved by the county, the district will drop its lawsuit, Jason Rew, an attorney representing the district, confirmed Monday.

For all indoor and outdoor sites, organizations planning to host such gatherings must submit a gathering protocol at least 72 hours in advance, and it must be approved by the county and easily accessible to all attendees. Mask wearing, social distancing and other protocols should be in place to limit potential transmission of COVID-19. 

Under such guidelines, schools could host a football game with a few hundred people in attendance spread out around a stadium.

When it sued the Health Department, the school district asked for a temporary restraining order immediately before the next home football games, which Circuit Judge Cory Atkins denied. The district also asked the court to rule on the legality of such guidelines and to bar the Health Department from issuing sanctions. 

Superintendent Paul Kinder said two weeks ago the district was prepared to go to trial unless the two sides resolved the issue outside court. Kinder noted that beyond football games, the guidelines severely hampered any possible band event in the district.

High schools in Independence, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and elsewhere have otherwise been limiting attendance at football games this season. The Raytown-Raytown South game and William Chrisman-Truman football games last month were played at Staley High School, where Clay’s County’s guidelines allowed for more attendance.

Prior Jackson County regulations – part of the “Phase 2.5” in reopening plans – allowed up to 50 percent capacity at many indoor facilities, as long as the proper social distancing is possible, but limited outdoor gatherings to 100 people (besides game participants). Given that, a few hundred people could be spaced apart in a gymnasium for an event.

“Events with greater than 100 attendees can occur with less risk when masks are worn properly and contact is limited between attendees, staff and others,” the Health Department posted on social media when it issued the new guidelines. “Gatherings continue to be high-risk activities that have potential to become super spreader events. Organizers and attendees of events, especially those that are most vulnerable, should take the risk of COVID-19 seriously when weighing the decision to attend an event.”