The reliance on remote class sessions on days winter weather makes a normal school day impossible is all fine and well, until the power goes out.
This has been the experience of multiple school agencies in the area in the last week amid an unusually severe February trend of winter weather that has led to all sorts of unanticipated consequences, highlighted by rolling blackouts Tuesday and Wednesday. The State of Missouri has built online “alternate methods of instruction” into the mandatory 1,044 academic-year class hours required, and districts have varied in the ways they are implementing this resource.
Dr. John Newell, superintendent of East Buchanan C-1 School District in Gower, Missouri, has opted out of it entirely to date. So far that has worked, as the district still has flexibility for one additional snow day before it will have to hold extra class days into summer vacation to compensate.
“I feel that when we get back in session, teachers are still going to have to cover what they were going to cover anyway,” he said. “I don’t know if it really advances most of our students, and keeps them on track in the way that we hope it would.”
The St. Joseph School District has taken advantage of the system, although it was one of several agencies that had to go to complete shutdown Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of cold hazards, icy roads and regional infrastructure issues.
For his part Thursday, Darin Pollard reported that the St. Joseph Catholic Schools, for which he is principal representative, are managing to navigate the year’s extensive hurdles. Pollard’s own St. Francis Xavier School went to all-online education Tuesday, and then a complete shutdown Wednesday.
It was one of several institutions affected by rolling blackouts ordered by the Southwest Power Pool, a regional utility regulator that has command over companies like Evergy on such matters. Normal activities resumed Thursday.
“We’re trying to keep things as somewhat normal as possible,” Pollard said. “In this interesting world of COVID and snow, and now power outages, it’s just, it’s very difficult. But we try and do what we can to educate the kids as best as we can.”
Travis Dittemore, superintendent of Buchanan County R-IV School District, said the usage of online alternate methods of instruction during this time has worked well, with 80-85% virtual attendance reported, only about 5% down from the norm.
“For the most part, our students and parents have gone above and beyond our expectations to keep our students engaged through the difficult winter weather that we have experienced,” he said.
Containment measures for COVID-19 appear to be having a big effect on a common seasonal illness — the flu.
Last January, officials at Mosaic Life Care had seen close to 500 positive flu tests. This year, they have only had two positive cases for the illness.
Dr. Edward Kammerer said he believes it is truly remarkable that flu numbers are almost non-existent this year.
“Masks, hand hygiene — these things work, they certainly work for the flu. Something is different, this should be peak flu season in the Midwest. It’s amazing to only have had two cases in January,” Kammerer said.
At the clinic level, medical professionals with Northwest Health Services agree the flu has been almost non-existent this year, although they have seen other issues such as pneumonia, ear infections and sinus-related illnesses.
“In general, I have not seen any positive influence in cases yet, which is very striking,” Rachel Lessor, Northwest Health Services nurse practitioner, said.
The effectiveness of masks has shown that in upcoming flu seasons it may be beneficial and necessary for individuals who have certain health risks to wear face coverings.
“You’re going to have to evaluate for yourself whether that’s something to contemplate in the future ... do you wear a mask through winter,” Kammerer said. “At Mosaic, we’re going to look at the statistics, we’re going look at the numbers, and it’s possible that we would consider a mask mandate for our caregivers across certain months of the winter.”
Lessor said she believes masks are here to stay and will continue to be effective for sicknesses like the flu.
“I think now they know that the mask can protect them against some of these viruses, at least lower their risk, so yeah, I think that the masks are here to stay,” Lessor said.
No arrests have been made one year after the body of a woman was found on a rural road in Buchanan County.
The body of Ariel Starcher of Independence, Missouri, was located by a Missouri Department of Transportation worker, who was traveling down a road near Faucett when he came across a bag in a ditch.
Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said the case is still active as investigators continue to follow leads.
“We have things out in the lab, we have some things that have come back. They’re (investigators) going through records and some issues that they have received by search warrant subpoena,” Puett said.
Puett said the lack of a crime scene has been a challenge in this case.
“This has been a very difficult case, partially because we believe the incident started and occurred in another area and was then moved and the body disposed of in Buchanan County,” Puett said. “It’s been a broad investigation that’s involved partnerships with lots of other law enforcement agencies.”
Starcher’s family spoke about her life in an interview last year and said she left behind two daughters.
“She really loved her kids and she tried so hard to give them the best life she could,” Daniel Starcher, Ariel’s brother, said. “Ariel was a great person, she tried hard to do great things. She wanted to do tattoos. She was an amazing artist, like she’s a really, really great artist and she had a great smile.”
Puett said investigators are hoping to have a resolution to the case before too long.
“It’s a very significant case and we’re really concerned about finding and bringing the suspects who committed this heinous act to justice,” Puett said.