This year, and likely next, will largely be determined by the spread of Covid-19 and the magnitude of our efforts to contain it. It will be a collective responsibility between parents, educators, workers, and government leaders at every level. It is, therefore, critical we approach the situation with sound judgement and prudent decision-making based on objective scientific fact. On these conditions, the board of education has not hit the mark.
There has been a mountain of confusion surrounding the board’s determination of a plan concerning in-person instruction for the current academic year. While the board made the wise choice of transitioning to fully online instruction for the beginning of the year, there were some members who were adamant about forcing students to return to the classroom, potentially putting your sons and daughters in harm’s way. Additionally, the board has since decided to make in-person instruction available to parents who select the option. While the arguments revolving around the negative psychological implications resulting from prolonged isolation certainly have merit, it is important to consider the aggregate impact on public health that forcing teachers to return to schools may have as well. We can look no further than to neighboring states, such as Georgia and South Carolina where educators and students have succumbed to the virus shortly after returning to the classroom.
Furthermore, in making these decisions, the public instills trust and confidence in their leaders to make timely, fact-driven decisions. On this front, the board fell short as well. On the day of the finalized plan to initiate fully online instruction at the beginning of the year, inaccurate data was provided to the board regarding case positivity rates on a daily average basis. The inaccurate data was distributed to each board member with little time for review. This impulsiveness is, at the minimum, irresponsible and must be discouraged moving forward. While the intention might have been good-natured, the long-term effect could be further breakdowns in communication between board members or, even worse, public skepticism toward the board’s decision-making process.
Ultimately, there are a few policy prescriptions the board should adopt: for the sake of every student and teacher, instruction must move fully online; there must be greater investments in educational technology with increased availability to all students, particularly the financially disadvantaged, and at no charge; and a documented strategy to handle future similar crises must be made available to the public.
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