WATERS: Either-or tactic bad for pandemic policymaking
Gov. Beshear’s administration wants to make in-person reopening of schools during COVID-19 an either-or proposition — either districts delay opening back up to the end of September or Kentucky Department of Education bureaucrats in true Corleone-like fashion will make them an offer they can’t refuse.
However, a growing number of stakeholders prefer the both-and approach, concerned that a prolonged shutdown increases the possibility that many children will unnecessarily suffer long-term consequences.
Especially left out are disadvantaged kids.
Services like effective instruction, meals and support are often unavailable or much harder to obtain for children with special needs in a non-person school environment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reopening schools for most students, warning that keeping school buildings closed may lead to child depression, mental and physical abuse, drug abuse and even suicide.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis it’s “in the public health interest” that schools reopen for “face-to-face learning” this fall.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said at a recent White House event featuring parents, medical professionals and education leaders from across the nation that students and their families “can’t be held captive to other people’s fears or agendas.”
The “one size fits all approach” no longer works for education, and parents must “have options that are going to work for their child and for their children’s education,” she added.
Even some teachers’ union bosses admit teachers are still novices at distance learning, too. Beshear’s fears about allowing children to return to school, while genuine, shouldn’t keep other families from exercising that option if it’s best for their child.
Those wanting a different approach — such as distance learning or an alternative educational environment like a charter, private or home school — ought to not only have those options but should also get financial aid to exercise them in these pandemic-impacted times.
Unfortunately, the Kentucky Department of Education is doubling down on its my-way-or-the-highway approach.
Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown threatens “consequences” for school districts whose elected board members “defy” Beshear’s “suggestion” to push back reopening until Sept. 28.
Brown’s threats came the day after the Williamstown Independent School Board voted to reopen later this month, as scheduled.
Catholic schools, over which Beshear and state government have far less power, also chose not to follow Beshear’s “suggestion.”
Several state senators, including Senate President Robert Stivers and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, leaned on the governor in a recent op-ed to trust the judgement of local education leaders, whose “innovation, adaptability, professionalism and commitment is unmatched.”
Innovation happens when thinking is in both-and terms.
It’s sorely lacking in either-or approaches.
Providing both in-classroom instruction for healthy kids and their less-at-risk young teachers while placing older at-risk teachers in positions where they’re working with distance-learning students is innovative and opposite the continual hand-wringing which keeps re-condemning everyone to lockdown mode simply because everything can’t be controlled and all risks eliminated.
Such hyper-anxiety results in missed opportunities.
Why, for example, has only 4 percent of the $13 billion set aside in federal coronavirus aid for schools been used?
Why the fear when the CDC will send teams to ensure individual schools and districts reopen safely?
Shouldn’t the KDE be helping school districts connect with those opportunities instead of issuing threats?
Beshear’s desire to lower COVID-19 case numbers is understandable; but the senators are right to call him out for his myopic and draconian approach.
“We cannot apply a one size fits all model for our school districts, as what is best for Jefferson County may not be the same for Adair County,” the senators wrote, adding they will support local education leaders’ both-and decisions.
That’s really an offer the commonwealth should not refuse.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.
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