KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two days before a pair of scheduled home football games, the Blue Springs R-IV School District has sued Jackson County Health Department Director Bridgette Shaffer over an order limiting the size of gatherings.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
According to the lawsuit, which requests a temporary restraining order, Blue Springs calls Jackson County’s order to limit outdoor gatherings to 100 people or less “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Despite the county’s order, Blue Springs established a policy for its home games to give “every player/cheerleader/dance team member who is participating in the scheduled activity” four tickets to the game. Visiting team participants receive two tickets each.
More than 400 spectators attended Blue Springs’ season-opening loss Aug. 28 against Liberty, prompting the health department to issue a Notice of Noncompliance on Sept. 1 to Superintendent Paul Kinder.
The Jackson County Health Department informed Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder by email Aug. 27, one day before the Wildcats’ home game, that the district’s policy violated current health orders, but Blue Springs ignored that warning.
Shaffer’s letter to Kinder on Sept. 1 threatened to revoke all of the district’s concession stand health licenses, require athletes participating in non-compliant events to quarantine for two weeks and possibly ban all spectators from Blue Springs district athletic events for the remainder of the season.
The district is asking the judge to allow it more than 100 spectators at its games on Friday when Blue Springs hosts Staley and Blue Springs South hosts Park Hill.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to bar the health department from imposing sanctions and expedite a final ruling about the legality of Shaffer’s order, limiting outdoor gatherings to 100 people or fewer.
Blue Springs met with county health officials via videoconference last week to discuss the order, according to court documents.
The district, which has hand sanitizer available at its facilities, said it was willing to limit attendance to 25% of stadium capacity, require those in attendance to wear face masks, require spectators who don’t live in the same household to stay at least six feet apart upon entry and when seated.
That wasn’t enough to satisfy the county, so the district opted to file a lawsuit to the chagrin of Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr.
“The lawsuit filed by the Blue Springs School District is troubling for many reasons,” White said Wednesday in a statement. “It is important to remember that the CDC, White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the World Health Organization have all recommended that we limit the size of gatherings due to the high level of the virus in our community. Yet, despite the apparent universal agreement that large public gatherings pose a substantial risk to the health and safety of our community, the Blue Springs School District has decided to sue the County in the hopes a court will allow them to have more spectators at their football games.”
Blue Springs argued that the Chiefs are being allowed to have approximately 17,000 people at Thursday’s home opener against the Houston Texans with capacity capped at 22%.
Meanwhile, 2,500 spectators were allowed at a youth wrestling event at Hy-Vee Arena, an indoor venue, last month.
Of course, while both Arrowhead and Hy-Vee Arena are in Jackson County, they are governed by the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, which is separate from the Jackson County Health Department.
Blue Springs also notes that Jackson County is far more restrictive than neighboring counties. Clay County caps attendance for sports at 25%, while Platte and Cass counties have no limit on the number of spectators allowed, according to the lawsuit.
The district calls the limitations on sporting events “unfair to all citizens of Jackson County and impose unreasonable restrictions that will cause irreparable harm” by failing to account for the physical size of a given venue or organizers’ ability to adequately social distance crowds.
“While we understand and appreciate that reasonable minds can disagree about what the right number should be, we are disappointed that Blue Springs chose to litigate this issue,” White said. “Unfortunately, the decision by Blue Springs will require us to divert valuable time, energy, and resources to this lawsuit instead of focusing on making our community safer and stronger.”