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Big decision on reopening schools after Covid – February 11th, 2021

February 12, 2021

One reason the latest meeting was difficult for all of us is because public opinion was so divided and even our individual positions varied so much. Each of us had put so much personal time into studying (and listening), yet we were forced to compromise and choose something few of us would have chosen first. It was multaneosly painful and gratifying to finally settle on one of four four choices.

One thing I was surprised by was that my personal choice would change because of the public comments. I like to think of myself as immune to emotional appeals or political winds. But I found myself changing as I saw how any why people in the community view the issues.

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe all of my thoughts on this issue, but at least I can get my comments “on the record” with this blog entry. These are the comments I read during the meeting (which I had been revising and shaping for days, including right up to just minutes before the vote).

“First, I would like to acknowledge all of the people who took time to express their opinion and feelings about this issue. Although I rarely respond personally, I always listen to or read every comment. Almost all of them are deeply honest and sincere. We’re not counting for and against. We’re listening. This isn’t just some political campaign. These are life stories.To each of you, thank you for taking the time.

“Of the four options: 1.) re-open as soon as possible; 2.) re-open after we reach red status; 3.) re-open after orange status, or 4.) not re-open this year, I’m not comfortable choosing option 1, (opening now while we’re in the purple tier). I’m also not comfortable with option 4 (no re-opening this school year). I favor option 2, reopening when the county reaches the red tier, though I could support option 3.

“Why re-open this year? We haven’t eliminated the risk, but we have good knowledge on how to manage that risk. Over the last ten/eleven months, we’ve watched schools around us and around the country that opened and seen what happened. Yes, there are new variant strains of the virus to be concerned about, but the consensus remains that carefully using protective equipment can keep the risk of infection low enough to re-open. The state has indicated they will support us in re-opening if we choose that, but we need to keep the pressure on the state to accelerate vaccinations so that all school staff have access to them.

“When we do re-open, it won’t be all grade levels or all classes equally. It will be phased in by priority, and even then only for 2-½ hours in the morning for elementary students. Middle and high schools would remain in distance learning in the morning but will be allowed to come in the afternoon.

“Parents will be able to choose their comfort level. If they want their students to remain home in distance learning, they can make that choice and keep their students in the same class.

“School employees, however, will not be able to “choose their comfort level.” School employees are classified as essential workers. The work won’t be pain-free, and it won’t be risk-free, just as with other essential workers.

“Teachers will have to carefully follow unpleasant safety practices using uncomfortable safety equipment. It won’t be a return to normal, and we can’t take for granted the close teaching and learning environments we’ve had in previous years. But it will be there for those students who choose it.

“There will still be many unknowns. There will be more surprises and infections and disruptions to people’s lives. Even with schools closed to in-person attendance the last ten months, many children and families have contracted Covid and been seriously affected.

“If we are waiting until there is no more anxiety, we will be waiting for a long time. We shouldn’t ignore that anxiety, but we can look for solid information on what preventative steps will reduce risk.

“I have sympathy for those who are deeply uncomfortable with this. The district is going to great lengths to provide safety equipment, but teachers will need to go to great lengths in their classrooms to keep the risk of infection as low as possible. It’s a huge burden for employees, from top to bottom. We only choose it because of our responsibility to students and to the community.

“If the county, state or federal government advises us to close again, we’ll do so. We can halt at any time if the recommendations change. But in the meantime, I will vote to re-open when we reach the red tier, which is option 2.”

The other issue of the evening that drew interest was extending the superintendent’s contract. I hadn’t prepared remarks for that, and I’m sure what came out was garbled, but I spoke in strong support of her performance and service.

I said there was a misunderstanding in the community (one that I used to share) about her role; it was more us using and dictating to her than the other way around. It’s a finely-tuned process of balancing voices between the board and administration, and not a good place to scrimp on dollars spent. I said we could hire a replacement for half her rate but we’d wind up being sorry real fast if we did. There is so much we count on her and her team to get right.

-Craig Wilson, February 12, 2021

From → Meetings

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