Kyle Troutman: We don’t have all the answers

Saturday, July 18, 2020

If there’s anybody I don’t want to be right now, it’s a school superintendent or member of a school board.

Many boards met this week or last to discuss how their students would reenter schools in a month’s time, and with the ongoing, ever-changing pandemic, those decisions are not easy ones to make.

For parents and patrons with questions about reentry, there’s one consistent answer from school officials — “We don’t have all the answers.”

When schools went on the initial wellness break back in March, I doubt anyone thought we would still be at this point in July, let alone in the middle of a surge in cases in southwest Missouri. At the start of June, Barry County had only 12 cases and Lawrence County had 7, but as of Wednesday, those numbers have skyrocketed to 151 and 117, respectively.

These figures create a windstorm of unanswered questions for school administrators.

What will be the protocol if a teacher tests positive? Does the whole class quarantine for two weeks?

If a teacher is forced to isolate or quarantine, are those counted as sick days? Would the teacher still be required to teach digitally from home?

What about if a student tests positive? Does every class that student is in have to quarantine?

What kind of liability does the school have if a teacher or student gets sick?

Who will substitute in a COVID-positive teacher’s classroom? Will there be enough substitutes to cover classes in the event of an outbreak?

Social distancing is a big part of prevention, so how will schools keep students distanced during classroom transition times, when the hallways are packed and students want to chat?

Will teachers be required to wear masks? Will students be required to wear masks? Will elementary age students be required to wear masks?

These are only a few of the myriad of questions administrators will face, and for some, there are answers.

Monett released its plan this week, and other schools are soon to follow.

Some of those plans include extra safeguards, masking in certain situations, altering of breakfast and lunch schedules and offers for virtual learning.

The intent is all well and good, but the old saying “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” could not apply more to any other moment. Who knows where we will be in five weeks?

Some have said this wave will peak at about the time school starts. If more people in Barry and Lawrence counties stick to health officials’ guidelines —wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding large groups — maybe that will be possible.

On Aug. 3, superintendents in Barry and Lawrence counties will be at the Monett High School Performing Arts Center for a meeting with the administrators of the Barry and Lawrence County Health Departments. I plan to be there to hear what guidance districts are given and what route they go at that point.

With this level of uncertainty, I will ask one thing on behalf of school officials — patience.

Parents, guardians, patrons, please be patient as administrators sort all this out. And understand that differing beliefs about mask effectiveness, COVID-19 transmission or the reality of the situation has virtually zero effect on how administrators will make decisions.

Superintendents and school board members will make decisions based on local, state and national health agency recommendations, and they will do it with the safety of their students and staff in mind — and may God bless them.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.