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Fort Osage adapts for new school year

Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Jason Snodgrass, superintendent of the Fort Osage School District, spends much of his time at his computer checking for updates on the status of the effects the pandemic is having on school openings across the metro area. A teacher or administrator alone in their office does not need to wear a mask. Masks will be mandatory for all students, teachers and administrators once students return to classes this fall, set for Sept. 8.

Fort Osage High School superintendent Jason Snodgrass takes a quick glance at his computer and knows that it’s going to be a busy day.

“There are a lot of questions out there among our students, their parents and teachers in our school district,” Snodgrass said, “and we’re doing our best to find the answers.”

He paused for a moment, and added, “Although they may change five minutes after we tell them something. This pandemic is unlike anything I have ever had to deal with. This is a time we’re all going to have to think outside the box. Everything that just comes natural, now, as an educator you have to rethink a lot of things.”

“And our team here at Fort Osage has been outstanding in thinking about student and staff safety, and we’re still considering all the ways we can help our kids and our community.”

Snodgrass went over a varsity of questions to let families in the Fort Osage School District know what to expect when classes are tentatively set to open Sept. 8.

“Right now, K through 12, we have 26 percent of our students have signed up for online classes and 74 percent are going to return to their respective classrooms,” Snodgrass said. “That total is not necessarily across the board K-12 and that total may change between now and Sept. 8, but we are talking to our staff to find out who wants to teach online and who wants to teach in the classroom.

“We asked if they were interested in teaching virtually and we are going to look at the student needs every grade level and make the decision – how many teachers do we need at certain grade levels and subject matter.”

Snodgrass said the classrooms will have a different look when the students return.

“We will not have Plexiglas partitions, but we will have social distancing, with the desks at least six feet apart. We are going to maximize all the space in our classrooms and our buildings.”

Each classroom will be sprayed with a mist-type disinfectant that Snodgrass said “will keep things sanitary, but not drench everything. We will spray frequently and our custodians will have an electrostatic mister on their back and use a wand to keep things sanitary. We will wipe down desks throughout the school day and have purchased several hand sanitizers that will be stationed throughout the buildings.”

Through staff sessions, Snodgrass said new ideas are leading to changes that will benefit students and his staff.

“We’re looking at one-way hallways,” he said. “Thursday was our first meeting with all our principals, and we’re brainstorming and we’re looking at all things – like arrival times, dismissal times and how to best maximize our space.

“Students will go to the cafeteria – again, we are maximizing space – but they are going to be eating in classrooms or use a variety of spaces in the building to eat lunch,” Snodgrass said. “Whenever you’re eating, you’re taking your mask off, so we are going to be thoughtful and not have them take their masks off sitting directly across from each other.”

Students at all grade levels will have to get accustomed to wearing a mask.

“Students will be wearing a mask on the bus and throughout the entire school day, unless they are doing a rigorous activity,” he said. “If they are not eating or doing a rigorous activity in their PE class they will be wearing a mask.”

Snodgrass said the schools will not have a facemask police force, to ensure all students are wearing their masks, but the rule will be enforced.

“We’re not going to be peeking around corners to try and catch students without a mask,” he said, “but this rule must be followed. We have to wear masks for safety protocol, and we talked about that at our meeting. We have to do our best to keep everyone safe.”

“And in doing so, we are going to make sure we are communicating the importance of wearing masks with all students and parents. We’ll work with each individual. I’m not going to say we’re going to kick kids out of school for not wearing a mask, but we are going to be consistent and we make sure that for everyone’s safety we are abiding by that. In most cases, if you work with people and make sure they know the circumstances, you can work through those things.”

Snodgrass said a plan is in place to load students onto buses, while maintaining social distancing.

“We’re going to load students grades 7 through 12 from front to back,” Snodgrass said. “Younger students will load first to last, based on where they are picked up on their route – as we don’t want to force a kindergartener to sit in the back of the bus.

“And all students will wear masks.I have a meeting with our transportation people and we will find out just how many students in all grades we can safely put on a bus - that will be finalized well before school starts.”

Snodgrass said he expects fewer students will be allowed on buses because of social distancing, and he is hoping parents will step forward to help with that situation.

“We are encouraging parents who can drive their students to school, and/or pick them up, that’s not a requirement, but that is something we are going to encourage to lighten the load on the bus,” he said.

“Activities and those things when possible, we will take fewer student athletes, and, when need be, we will take more student-athletes and add more buses. That is a challenge, as you can imagine.”

The possibility of fall sports has been a topic of discussion throughout the summer and Snodgrass said that as of the time of the interview late last week, school will start Sept. 8 and right now, practices will start Aug. 10.

However, there is talk of pushing that Aug. 10 date back. The superintendent added that all students will be allowed to participate in activities, even if they are taking online classes.

“If a school offers in-person classes, then all students – whether they attend in person or virtual classes can participate in all our activities,” he said.

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