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Schools respond to COVID spike

By Chance Chamberlain

A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Cass County has caused area schools to reevaluate their course of action for procedures involving prevention protocols.

Although Cass County has seen rising case numbers, the Harrisonville School District has not made any decisions to transition just yet, but Assistant Superintendent Jason Eggers said there is a chain of events that would take place before such transition would take place.

“The first thing that would happen is a classroom closure before we would close the school or the district. We will need to assess the data and be ready for a pivot at any time,” he said.

The district has fielded rumors about a staffing shortage causing problems throughout the district and Eggers said that he is aware of the rumors, but faculty and staff have worked hard to cover all their bases.

“Our faculty, staff and administrators do a great job covering when needed. It is overwhelming for our staff, but it shows the dedication they have to create the best learning environment possible for our students,” he said. “Staffing classrooms with substitutes is not a new issue to Harrisonville and surrounding schools, however, this year has posed even more difficulties for a variety of reasons.”

“For the most part we got our classes covered, but on certain days we may also be short on substitutes. Quarantine protocols can make it difficult to staff as some staff have been quarantined multiple times,” Eggers explained.

Even though staff has been pushed to its limits this year, the district elected to maintain their current procedures despite new guidelines announced by Missouri Governor Mike Parson last week.

Parson’s new plan says that proper mask wearing may now prevent individuals from being identified as close contacts in schools that have mask requirements.

Meaning, if two students are together and one tests positive, the other can avoid quarantine because of proper mask wearing.

The Harrisonville School District elected to continue to follow their own protocols because Superintendent Paul Mensching said, “With the increase we have seen in cases over the last couple of weeks, the Board felt like this was not the time to lessen our layers of protection, as quarantine is viewed as a layer of protection.”

They also had concerns about the layers of stress this could put on staff to make the call on whether students are properly wearing their masks.

“The board felt like the current plan is working; however, they want to revisit it in the future. We will continue to closely monitor our students and staff and will make modifications to our guidelines if the situation warrants change,” he added.

Sherwood High School elected to take a different course of action as they transitioned to virtual learning Nov. 17 due to another positive COVID-19 test result from a student.

The district plans for in-person classes to restart after Thanksgiving break.

Superintendent Steve Ritter said, “We were notified of another student who tested positive for COVID-19 and as a result, we have a number of faculty who have to quarantine.

“When you add the number of faculty who must quarantine to the number we already have away from school, we no longer have enough substitutes to cover all needed roles in the district.”

He added, “Only Sherwood High School will be virtual through Thanksgiving break. This will allow us to move all substitutes and redirect some instructional staff from the high school to other parts of the building to fill gaps.”

The district plans to resume in-person learning on Monday, November 5, if enough staff members can return to their duties.

Alongside the announcement, the district provided a list of important information for the families who are affected by the transition.

Ritter said, “All our high school staff will be working from school during this time, but the only students who should be on school grounds prior to 3:20 p.m. are students who attend Clinton Technical School and students using school Wi-Fi for class from their cars.

“School sports and activities will continue in the afternoons and evenings, in their typical meeting locations.”

The school delivered flash drives to students without home internet so they can keep up with lesson plans and coursework. High school educators called students last Tuesday to discuss lesson plans for the week, while students with internet meet for class via Google Classroom.

Ritter said, “High school families should continue to watch their email for additional information when it becomes available.”

Midway Superintendent Angela Gibson released a statement announcing the transition to distanced learning which began on Nov. 16.

She said, “As you know, we are currently experiencing an increase in the spread of COVID-19 in our community, county and state. Unfortunately, this increase has had a negative effect on our ability to staff our classrooms. Several of our Midway staff members are affected at this time by quarantine requirements.”

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find substitutes to cover in-person teaching, learning and supervision responsibilities.

“Our staff is doing an outstanding job covering unfilled absences, however, continuing to respond in this manner is neither practical or sustainable week-after-week,” Gibson explained.

Midway R-1 School District elected to transition all students grade seven through 12 to distanced learning. The transition is temporary as students will return to the classroom on Monday, following Thanksgiving break.

Elementary students will continue to attend the classroom in green phase as no changes have been made to their procedures at this time.

Although the other small districts in the area have temporarily conducted virtual learning, the Archie school District has not made any changes at this time, but Superintendent Jeff Kramer is working closely with the school board to monitor the situation.

The district will send announcements if any changes are planned to be made.

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