When it comes to our schools, we want to make one thing perfectly clear: Politics are fine in the history and civics classrooms, but they have no place in the school board rooms. When it comes to deciding when, how and with what precautions we will send our children back to school in this year of the coronavirus pandemic, we don’t want the pedantic, power-mongering political rhetoric. These plans must be crafted with a focus on health, efficiency and care. Last we looked, elephants and donkeys weren’t mascots for any of our schools.
Yet, we hear loud and often irrational voices about the need to open schools this fall with full classes, all extracurriculars engaged and little regard for the policies supported by health and infectious disease experts to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
This first became the call of the White House, with the president, the vice president and their secretary of education saying students must go to school in the fall without any limitations. The health risk was small, they implied, and the price of failure immense. They offered no plan or financial support, just threatening words that made them feel like they were doing something positive. They weren’t.
What they were doing was undermining people who understand these dangers, including guidelines for reopening written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are guidelines that virtually every organization in the nation is using to ensure appropriate decisions about how to operate in the face of a pandemic that worsens by orders of magnitude every day.
These are the experts who advocate caution and explain why, but some people who think they are smarter suggest that these guidelines would be rewritten to make them less stringent, which in this case means “more dangerous.”
No one wants schools to reopen more than bored students, frustrated parents and selfless educators. Kids need to develop, and self-disciplined learning never has been uniformly successful. But everyone surely understands the insanity of expecting to have the daily nose-wiping, hand-holding, close-proximity status quo of schools when the virus is spreading amok.
The Virginia Department of Education this week appropriately ceded decision-making about reopening to school boards, giving them a few guiding principles. That’s good. We want our decision-makers to be those who know our communities, recognize our children’s faces and hear if not always heed our words. These are not choices to be targeted from high altitude. They require the precision focused by heart as well as mind.
To their credit the school boards in Henry County and Martinsville have developed plans for reopening next month that are careful, measured and detailed and yet appropriately different, because the spread of the coronavirus in these two localities is different: more cases in Henry County, higher penetration in Martinsville. That means two plans that blend classroom and distance learning but a less aggressive timetable in Martinsville.
But then that brings us back to politics. State Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Rocky Mount) and state Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville), in comments to the Bulletin’s Bill Wyatt, expressed concerns that school boards were getting a bad plan from the governor and weren’t being given the resources to get students into the classrooms “five days a week.” Neither did they offer specifics, just advocacy to reopen now.
Be sure of this: If we are going to send our children and vulnerable adults into the classroom even for one day a week, we must do so with ultimate safety as the prerequisite.
We close with this final political statement. You can guess who said the guidelines from the CDC “are too tough and expensive.”
We think that reference to dollars lacked sense, because when it comes to the well-being of our children and those who sacrifice their lives to teach them, anything but moving cautiously comes with a possible cost that you can’t measure in money. Surely a politician can understand that.
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