District lawsuit may head to trial

County legislators are hopeful a solution can be worked out before lawsuit against Jackson County Health Department goes to bench trial

By Mike Genet

While a judge last week denied the Blue Springs School District request to allow more than 100 spectators at football games, the district’s lawsuit filed last week against Jackson County, specifically Health Director Bridgette Shaffer, remains in court.

A bench trial – meaning no jury – is scheduled for the morning of Oct. 5, in front of circuit judge Cory Atkins. 

When it filed suit last week, the school district asked Atkins to grant a temporary restraining order against the 100-person outdoor gathering limit, given that both Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools had home football games Friday.

Atkins denied the restraining order, but the district had also asked the judge to bar the Health Department from imposing sanctions and issue a ruling on the legality of the department’s attendance guideline.

For the games last Friday, the district issued about 100 passes to non-participants at the respective stadium gates based on entry lists, with no visiting team fans allowed.

The school district, with full support from the Board of Education, sued after Health Department sent a notice of noncompliance to the district Sept. 1 and threatened sanctions that included revoking the district’s concession stand health permits, requiring athletes from non-compliant events to quarantine for two weeks and possibly banning spectators from district athletic events for the remainder of the season.

In late August, the Blue Springs district announced an attendance policy under which each player, cheerleader and dance team member participating in the activity would receive four tickets for home football games, and each visiting team participant would receive two tickets.

With that policy, about 430 hundred fans attended the Blue Springs game Aug. 28 against Liberty, far shy of the stadium’s 5,000-person capacity, the district said in the suit. The day before the game, the Health Department had emailed Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder to say the ticket policy violated the gathering limits that had been in place for a couple months. 

In a Zoom conference Sept. 3, Kinder said they had complied with regulations by limiting capacity to 25 percent, requiring face masks for all fans, requiring social distance between non-household guests, and providing hand sanitizer. County officials maintained their 100-person limit, a number the district considered arbitrary and unreasonable.

County Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, who recently recovered from COVID-19 after a brief illness, implored county officials to work with the Blue Springs School District on an amicable solution before the matter goes to trial.

“You have these kids that have practiced for 3-4 years for this stuff, this isn’t just something they do for a few hours to get ready … and then to not be able to have the parents to come – we should be encouraging people to get outside and do that,” Tarwater said during Monday’s County Legislature meeting. “There’s seating on both sides of the field, so they don’t come in contact with each other.

“Instead of threatening them, let’s find a way to make this work. They can socially distance, but there’s also the personal responsibility. At least give them the option and the opportunity to do that.”

Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said she understands there are people upset about the attendance limit but noted there are “entire districts and swaths of parents” that have been able to take limitations in stride and have hunkered down.

“I don’t think it’s fair to just discuss the people that are (ticked) off,” Williams said. While it’s often true in governments that “squeaky wheels generally get the grease,” she added, “The quiet folks, we’re not giving them voice either.”

The Blue Springs High School football team is scheduled to play host to Park Hill at 7 p.m. Friday. Blue Springs South is at Rockhurst Friday.