Opinion

Kyle Troutman: A return to school, but not to normalcy

Saturday, August 28, 2021

For the second year now, students have returned to classes in August with some abnormality.

After classes were canceled entirely in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19, robbing many seniors that year of prom, graduation and athletics seasons, our education system has not been the same since.

Last August, there was a big question for administrators to face — would, and should, schools require students to wear masks?

While many schools started the year with optional masking, by November, districts had changed their tunes, faced with massive amounts of student quarantines and the ability to avoid them if mask mandates were approved.

By the end of last school year, things started to settle down as case numbers dipped and the vaccine became widely available. For so long, masking was the only tool in the box, and now we had another.

Alas, this summer’s Delta Variant has thrown another massive wrench into the gears of recovery, and districts opened school again this week faced with the same quandary as a year ago. While the issues may not have changed, the landscape certainly has.

On Aug. 25, 2020, the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, Barry County had reported a total of 336 cases of COVID-19 and 48 active cases at that time. As of Aug. 19 this year, five days before the start of school, Barry County has 4,008 total cases and 92 active.

As of Aug. 5, the Centers for Disease Control recommends a return to in-person school with universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

Despite this and the spike in cases over the summer, as we had more than 200 active cases only weeks ago, all school districts in our coverage area except for one opted to enter the year with masking optional.

Monett, the lone district to require masking, chose to do so for the first two weeks of school, then will re-evaluate after that.

As some of our social media followers pointed out, they did so at a special meeting where the district’s officials pictured were not masked, though they did appear to be distanced and not all officials were pictured. The only visible mask was on the face of Dr. Elizabeth Lucore, a Cox Monett physician at the meeting urging mandatory masking.

Followers also pointed out how a photo at the district staff meeting in the performing arts center showed at least 100 Monett educators, and not a single mask could be seen. It should be noted that meeting was held six days before the school board implemented the mandate.

Even still, it was a bit disheartening to see all the teachers unmasked at the meeting and following no social distancing. How many unvaccinated teachers in that photo could face quarantine in the first weeks of school if there was one positive case in that photo? I say unvaccinated because the CDC does not require the vaccinated to quarantine for exposure unless showing symptoms.

Those issues aside, in a time when most districts seem to be placating to the politicization of masking, it was refreshing to see Monett officials implement a mandate knowing the backlash they would receive — and they did receive one.

Now more than ever, we need people in influential positions to lead by example. Any students who look at that photo of the teachers will surely not be inspired to mask up when told to do so by those photographed in that auditorium.

That example pendulum swings in the other direction, too. It is absolutely unacceptable and a terrible example to disrupt a school board meeting like about 25 protestors did this week. That show of petulance has no place in our community and did absolutely nothing to foster any progress or change.

Board President A.J. Bahl asked people to recall last year’s numbers, when the district stated the year with more than 300 quarantines. On Oct. 23, 2020, Monett had nine active cases within the district and 163 individuals were quarantined. The week before that, the Cassville school district had to quarantine the entire sixth grade.

For districts to put such an emphasis on the fluidity and availability of learning, wouldn’t it behoove them to do everything possible to avoid as many quarantines as possible? And, in the process, maybe they could keep some from getting sick with a more transmissible version of the virus we faced a year ago.

I continue to hope that I am wrong, but almost a year ago, I wrote on this very same issue and said cases will continue to climb, and they did. Right now, we are in a roller coaster trend that ramped up when school started, Labor Day weekend arrived and all the fall festivals across the county were held.

They say history is bound to repeat itself, and all signs indicate last year’s history is again rearing its ugly head.

I hope our kids can continue to overcome this adversity and aren’t set back too far, or at all. Going back to school for another year is an exciting time, and I hope it’s a more promising experience than what seems to be ahead.

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.

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  • Something else that might also throw a wrench into the gears of some of these plans and rules for recovery is that I believe they have found that a postive vaccinated person that is asymptomatic sheds and spreads just as much virus as an unvaccinated person. The quaranteeing and contact tracing would seem to be very problematic with all the symptom free carriers running around.

    -- Posted by common-tater on Mon, Aug 30, 2021, at 9:55 PM
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