Gov. Parson backs Springfield Public Schools reopening plan

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a meeting with school officials at the Kraft Administration Center on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

In a brief Q&A with reporters, Parson acknowledged the frustration some residents have expressed with the policies, saying he knows many parents across the state want their kids back in the classroom full time.

“But when you look at a Springfield school district,” he said, "I would look at how big that is, and ask ‘How do you that?’ and ‘How do you do that safely?’”

“I think at the end of the day, education is critical to our state,” he continued. “But so is safety, and you’re got to figure out how you can have the kids, the teachers, juniors, the administration, the cooks — all of that comes together and you’ve got to decide how you deal with that."

He allowed that many districts may need to make adjustments as they move forward, but expressed confidence they'll make the right call.

"I'm confident in the administrators across this state, I'm confident in the school boards that are around here," he said. "They got elected to make decisions for their communities and they're going to know what best suits their communities."

Parson’s comments came roughly a week after the district announced itsfinal re-entry plan for the fall semester and gave parents two choices: Sign up for full-time virtual learning or the hybrid model with two days in the classroom and three days of virtual learning each week.

Students with last names starting with A-K will go Mondays and Tuesdays, L-Z will go Thursdays and Fridays, and everyone will learn virtually Wednesday while schools are cleaned.

Administrators framed the plan, which also requires everyone to wear masks, as a measured response to the ongoing pandemic and a troubling rise in cases through the region and the state.

Some of those cases have hit within the district during summer school, closing Rountree for a couple of weeks and halting in-person football conditioning at Glendale High School.

But at least some parents have balked at the plan, including more than a dozen who gathered at Park Central Square Monday to demand full-time in-person learning.

Some parents said they’re worried their kids will fall behind online and others said they need their kids at school so they can go to work.

Parson said he’s also concerned about children from low-income families getting meals and seeing school nurses who may be their only health care provider.

(SPS plans to offer meal services five days per week regardless of whether students are learning at home or at school.)

But Parson also said he trusts local leaders to make the right calls and make adjustments as they’re necessary.

“I think the Springfield school district, (Superintendent) John (Jungmann) does a good job down here,” Parson said. “And if he needs to make adjustments, he'll make adjustments, because I think all school districts will as we move forward.”

Jungmann, for his part, also took time to address criticism Wednesday, saying he and every school administrator in the state want to return to normal as soon as possible.

“We just don’t believe that we can effectively start that way,” he said.

He added that administrators think the district can get back to five-days-a-week in-person at the end of the first quarter of the school year, but cautioned that the trajectory of the virus would “push our decision making when it comes to next steps.”

Parson, a Republican, also took time Wednesday for  the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s version of the “State of the State.”

In a short speech, Parson touted progress hospitals have seen in combating the pandemic, and their avoidance thus far of becoming overwhelmed, as well as improvements in access to once-scarce testing and personal protective equipment.

“I'm so proud of our citizens, Missouri companies, chambers and communities across the state for doing their part,” he said. “Thanks to all of you, we have overcome all of these obstacles.”

Despite that success, the state has continued to report record one-day increases in COVID-19 cases over and over in recent weeks, and state data show the percentage of tests coming back positive is increasing, indicating current containment efforts are not enough to slow the spread.

Parson also touted encouraging jobs numbers as evidence the economy is recovering from the pandemic, noting that May and June saw the state recover more than a third of the jobs lost earlier in the crisis.

"Missouri is recovering,” he said. “The jobs are out there. We are on the right track and we will continue to do everything we can to rebuild our economy and help Missouri families and businesses recover from this crisis.”

News-Leader reporter Claudette Riley contributed to this report.