Blue Springs schools navigate pandemic challenges

Mike Genet

Like several other school districts, Blue Springs decided to alter its mask policy when the Jackson County Legislature last week ended the county's mask mandate for indoor public spaces. 

Blue Springs Superintendent Bob Jerome knows that making masks voluntary paired with the desire to keep students in the classroom as much as possible is a balancing act. The district will have to constantly monitor numbers, he said. 

“It's going to be fluid – absolutely,” Jerome said after giving a state of the schools address at a Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon. 

Area school districts had mask requirements to start the school year, and nearly all students and families have chosen in-person learning this year – in Blue Springs, 98 percent, Jerome said. 

Between that and the state not permitting hybrid learning models, classrooms essentially are as full as normal. But area school districts generally have been able to keep active case and quarantine percentages below 1 percent for student and staff populations. Jerome expressed hope that that can remain the case. 

“We're having ongoing discussions with the Health Department to make the best decisions going forward,” he said. 

The Board of Education had voted in September to continue masks through December for ages 3 and older, as the policy had helped greatly reduce mandatory quarantines and missed in-person learning days. But the board also knew the county mask mandate could end before the semester was over. 

In a message to families, the district said the board voted unanimously to follow the county, as “It would be inconsistent and arbitrary to keep the mask mandate in our schools if our students and staff were not being asked to wear a mask in any other setting.” 

Jerome told the chamber that with the pandemic and masks, the district knows “any decision won't be easily accepted by everyone.” 

“That's the challenge we're facing, how to be thoughtful and adapt,” he said. 

Jerome said end-of-course testing last school year showed a notable difference in the top 2 percent of in-person and virtual learners in the district. Teachers have been trying to make up some of the learning loss, he said, but it's an ongoing task. 

“You can't replace that in-person learning experience for our children,” he said. “We'll always try, but we might not ever recover from it.”  

The pandemic also has brought to the forefront the trauma that many students have to deal with outside of the classroom, and Jerome said for some students, that trauma “really makes achieving academically secondary.”  

He noted that several school building leaders recently attended a national conference about recognizing and dealing with childhood trauma, to pass along their lessons around the district.  

“This is something we'll be addressing for years and years in our school,” he said. 

As difficult or stressful as this school year might be at times, Jerome said he's tried to help staff “remember the why” and draw on what first motivated a career in education. 

“When times get tough, we've got to remember why you do this,” he said.