Harrisonville schools lift mask mandate

By Lucas Lord

After two months of mandatory masking, Harrisonville students and staff returned to optional masking as the school board voted to return to the scenario 1A in the Safe Return to School Plan. The move was made as pediatric vaccinations have become available and COVID numbers are declining in the county.

“The data shows that those numbers are coming down as the vaccine becomes available for students ages 5 and up which was not in place earlier. We are fairly confident this would be a good choice at this time,” Harrisonville Superintendent Paul Mensching told the board.

“With the staff survey I conducted this week, 127 respondents were in favor of returning to scenario 1A while 83 were in favor of continuing the masking policy.”

In scenario 1A masking will only be required in a specific building or the district at large if a 10-percent threshold of student and staff being quarantined or isolated is reached.

Board members Tina Graef, Nancy Shelton, Douglas Meyer, Doug Alexander, Brittney Sexton and Cameron Chenoweth voted in favor of the change while Bing Schimmelpfenning was the only one to vote against the policy, stating the threshold chosen by the board was somewhat arbitrary.

“The plan still requires masks with a number we decided,” Schimmelpfenning said. “I want it for the record that I’m opposed to it because it still requires masking with an arbitrary number of 10 percent.”

While the audience’s reaction was mixed, some said it didn’t go far enough while others clapped and celebrated the small step toward normalcy. Several parents spoke out against masking of any kind ahead of the vote. One expressed disappointment about how the board had reacted when concerns were expressed in the past.

“I was very disappointed by the disrespect that was taking place (at the last meeting I attended) as parents stood up here with their mask mandate concerns. There was eye rolling and huffs and puffs,” Jenny Wagner said. “We are demanded as parents to be quiet and to listen so it should only be fair that your facial expressions and eye rolling be controlled. The masks have brought confusion and division in our homes. Our children are confused about whether they should listen to their parents about the mask or to their teachers about the mask.”

In other business, the board received information about some program changes at the Cass Career Center, including the addition of a teaching profession program which would certify students to substitute or be paraprofessionals. 

“Ultimately, (choosing a new program) came down to a number of factors that we felt benefited the building the most,” Cass Career Center Director Anne Hickman said. “The addition of the teaching profession program is something that is critically needed across the state and nation. It’s one of those situations that if we don’t start addressing it now, soon it will be too late.”

Having approved the new program, set to enroll up to 24 students, changes to the health sciences program were also made.

“Currently, a one-year program for seniors only, students work through the years to earn their CNA certification by the time they graduate the program,” Hickman said. “What we are looking to do with this opportunity is start their junior year, offer that program and get them CNA certified by their junior year and offer a second year of the program where they can continue in internship-based experiences across the county with different healthcare affiliates.”

With a growing need for healthcare workers across the nation, Hickman stressed the importance of getting students hands-on experience as early as possible.

“We really felt like they needed more experience in a variety of settings,” she said.  “They need to be introduced to the healthcare industry earlier so they can understand the variety of options that they have.”

In a similar vein, an introductory leadership course in the marketing internship program was exchanged for a more advanced course where students will spend at least a semester interning with local businesses.

The program changes await state approval in December.