Fort Osage School District prioritizes in-person learning for upcoming year; plan for masks undecided

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

As school districts around the metro area try to make final decisions on procedures for the 2021-22 school year, Fort Osage Superintendent Jason Snodgrass knows the current plan could well change.  

The big question centers around masks, which Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. said this week is being left up to individual school districts. Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said this week she was encouraging masks in indoor public spaces but not mandating them, and encouraging individual places to mirror city facilities and have an across-the-board mask policy. 

“We still have a board meeting (Aug. 10) before the school year starts, to make sure we’re on the same page,” Snodgrass said. “Where we’re at now, as you know, things can change and change rapidly, and we’re having conversations with local health officials.” 

Right now, Snodgrass said, the district will recommend masks for anyone unvaccinated against COVID-19, and they’ll be required on buses (since masks have remained required on modes of public transportation). 

More:Back-to-school vaccination clinics being offered by Jackson County Health Department

Beyond that, the district will maintain seating charts (to help with contract tracing if necessary), encourage proper hand washing, keep hand sanitizing stations set up and try to maintain some social distancing “whenever and wherever possible,” Snodgrass said. Also, there are no attendance or capacity limits for events, though the superintendent said there will be some safety procedures in place, and with lunches they will “maximize space to the best of our ability” and again maintain seating charts. 

Currently, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is not permitting the hybrid schedule used by many school districts last year, and districts clearly don’t want to have to implement wide-scale virtual learning. 

“The priority for us is to have in-person learning,” Snodgrass said. 

To be clear, students have always had a virtual option even prior to the pandemic, but a large majority of students enrolled for in-person learning, Snodgrass said, and the district won’t have teachers doing some of both platforms. 

Snodgrass estimated that about 70 percent of district staff has been vaccinated, and as part of its Aug. 10 vaccine clinic with Jackson County Health Department for other required shots, Fort Osage will offer another optional COVID-19 vaccine opportunity for staff and students age 12 and older (with parent permission) – similar to this past spring.  

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The district also tries to promote other vaccine opportunities as much as possible. 

“We put out various vaccination opportunities for folks to receive the vaccine in our weekly communications,” Snodgrass said. 

Ultimately, the mask question will be fully decided a couple weeks before school starts Aug. 23, he said, and the district keeps in touch with neighboring school districts on the matter. 

“It’s a very big conversation whether that will be a mandate from Jackson County,” the superintendent said. “We try to stay very informed of the latest information.”