Kyle Troutman: The challenge of safety

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The two largest school districts in Barry County released their back-to-school plans on Thursday, and unlike how all districts in March did the exact same wellness break, this fall will look different depending on the district.

Monett released a 10-page document detailing the most pertinent questions, such as the options for seated or virtual instruction, masking for students and staff, transportation protocols, the triggers for a change to out-of-school instruction, and a whole host of other details people may or may not have considered.

Cassville released a 28-page document detailing a three-tier engagement level plan for how classes will be handled seated and/or virtually, as well as information regarding steps to be taken should someone in the school show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.

For those interested, reading the plans is enough to make your head spin. It’s a trove of information specific to a multitude of areas of education, and there are even finer details that are not included.

Ultimately, both districts have submitted plans that make the best of an unprecedented and difficult situation. No one alive in education today has ever dealt with anything like this.

Time and time again, there are a few key points districts hit when discussing COVID — how to bring students back into buildings while creating a safe environment, how to tailor instruction to meet the needs of seated and virtual students, and how to navigate the never-ending deluge of differing opinions from patrons in the community.

All of this considered, Monett and Cassville are both doing exceptionally well.

Both districts are putting the emphasis on physical distancing and creating opportunities where the most controversial topic surrounding COVID — masks — will be optional. The biggest difference between the districts’ plans, in fact, are in regards to that specific issue.

Monett is requiring masks for students grades 3-12 during certain portions of the school day, specifically during times in which physical distancing is not possible.

Cassville, on the other hand, is recommending, not requiring, that students in grades 6-12 wear masks during the same times, when social distancing is not possible.

There are health situations where masking is detrimental to a student, and as said before, student safety is the No. 1 goal. Monett’s requirement of masks, to me, is a step greater in the direction of safety. When it comes to our kids and the possibility of spreading COVID, there should be no shortcuts.

For those who do not have health conditions, what is the harm in wearing a mask for a short amount of time throughout the day? There isn’t any.

Conversely, what is the harm in intentionally not wearing a mask ever? The harm is the possibility to pass an unknown infection on to a classmate.

To me, the answer to the mask question is a simple one. Individual liberty is dear to the heart and core of this country, but when individual liberty is potentially putting others at risk, there is a problem.

With these new plans submitted to the public, parents and guardians have 24 days to decide how their children will continue their educations — and there’s no question education must continue.

There is hope by that point, the number of active cases in the southwest Missouri area will start to shrink.

That would be the best case scenario.

We all know what the worst case scenario would be, but I trust that our school districts are doing everything they can and will react appropriately when faced with even the slightest hint that scenario may be possible.

Ultimately, we are charging our school districts with the responsibility of keeping our kids safe in a time where safety is in question.

We must support them. We must be compassionate to others.

And, we must do our part to keep our community safe, as well.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times 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@monett-times.com.