Many of us spent all summer in virtual dread of what we expected would be a virtual first day of school for our Lee’s Summit R-7 District students.

As parents, we just couldn’t wrap our heads around more at-home learning. And for the kids, the level of discomfort and anxiety likely was determined by their grade levels. Part of that anxiousness came when decisions were kicked down the road a time or two by our school board. Once Sept. 8 was set, we had to wait even longer to find out our plan while other districts had rolled theirs out. Ultimately, we got there.

Our high school kids — particularly the seniors — don’t want to miss out on more social time. And parents know the social-emotional aspect of not being in the classrooms will weigh heavily on many of our students in the long-term.

Middle and grade school kids will be a mixed bag of temperament when it comes to learning at home. They’re still missing out on vital in-person time. And, this is especially important for our grade school kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, the lack of music, art and physical education time is a massive blow. I know the district is doing all it can, though, to teach these “specials” in virtual mode.

Many of us take solace in that, seemingly, this virtual education is temporary. Our LSR7 Board of Education is going to put the decision in the hands of administration — based on factors including new cases, case rates and other data from the Jackson County Health Department — to determine if and when we reopen.

At the meeting our board voted 5-2 to reopen (Megan Marshall and Judy Hedrick voted no, although we didn’t exactly get an explanation as to why), it was noted by Superintendent Dr. David Buck and others that we would evaluate other schooling options every two weeks based on this data.

It’s a good idea in theory, but the board needs to show some savvy when it comes to the trappings of those specific dates.

If we indeed take a deep dive into COVID-19 statistics every two weeks, we have to be prepared for the media and parental onslaught that comes with decisions to not re-open every 14 days. That means new headlines. New lines of questioning as to why. And, fair or not, new outrage by parents and others who think every classroom in every building should have been back open in August.

Technology worked all summer to get this first day right, but glitches in the national network with Securly early on Day 1 forced a disruption in learning. Which, of course, sends the domino effect with some that this whole process is flawed and, ultimately, not in the best educational interest of our children.

Day 1 recovered well, though, and our kids — both at home and in-person — finished day 1 unscathed and hopefully relieved that lunches, recess, some social time and other educational aspects took place, albeit in a much different format than they are used to.

I personally believe the longer we keep most grades out of our buildings, the longer it will take to fully bring them back into that educational frame of mind. I might be wrong. Our kids are resilient and if we show them calm and collective attitudes toward virtual learning, they will roll with it for as long as they need to.

But I think it is incumbent upon the district to be specific with the parents and stakeholders about what specifically would drive a decision to open, go hybrid or stay virtual. And are those decisions solely based on county-wide numbers and the health department’s differing levels of caution and stages? Are we looking at drilled down numbers, right here in Lee’s Summit zip codes?

And if we are not ready to return to school in two weeks, or four weeks, or six or eight or 10, how will we handle that from a media and public relations standpoint?

When my fourth grader, Addy, was preparing for her first day, she admitted to being a little nervous (she is at her school in Before & After School Services) but learning remotely, in a new grade, with a new teacher, just like every other fourth grade kiddo.

But more than that, she simply wanted to know if her mom and I were going to keep to our tradition of going to Poppy’s Ice Cream after the first day of school.

“Absolutely we will,” I told her. “This is still the first day of school, no matter how crazy it all seems.”

Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, its employees or any other guest contributors.

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