Record editorial: Inability of our leaders to contain virus leaves schools facing a staggering task
The Park City School District is facing a task that is nothing short of herculean.
How, amid a raging pandemic that shows no sign of abating, will it reopen schools, in accordance with direction from Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah State Board of Education?
So far, specifics have been scant beyond an assurance that families will be able to choose among sending their children to school, having them learn remotely or a mix of the two. The community will find out more Tuesday when the Board of Education considers a detailed reopening plan as required by the state.
Two critical responsibilities will be at the forefront of the district’s strategy: first and most importantly, ensuring the safety of students, teachers and other staff members. And second, implementing a remote learning option robust enough that students don’t fall behind their peers attending class in person.
Achieving both obligations is easier said than done. In fact, from the outside, doing so seems far-fetched. And it’s not due to a lack of expertise among school officials. Our educators are among the best and most dedicated in the state.
The plain truth is they are in an impossible position, one they neither created nor could have prepared for six months ago.
The blame rests on the shoulders of the people who have failed to do the only thing that would make the vital goal of reopening schools a manageable undertaking — contain the virus.
And it starts at the top.
For weeks, the Trump administration has relentlessly advocated for schools across the country to reopen this fall. But a half-year into the pandemic, the president and his administration continue to bungle the crisis, failing to mount a robust federal response and leaving new case numbers to explode across the nation even as other countries have been able to get a handle on the virus.
Were the situation in the U.S. similar to that in, say, Germany, where transmission has plummeted from a peak in early April, putting students and teachers back in classrooms would be much less fraught.
Utah’s leaders are also culpable. After leaving the state vulnerable by not implementing a statewide stay-at-home order, then prematurely lifting restrictions meant to slow the virus, Herbert is again spurning common sense — not to mention the advice of epidemiologists — by continuing to resist the simplest measure to reverse the out-of-control spread of COVID-19 in Utah: a statewide mask mandate. The Utah Legislature, meanwhile, has also stood in the way of a more effective response, stripping power from counties to craft their own restrictions and expressing opposition to requiring masks.
The lack of leadership from the state means Summit County, one of the few places in Utah where the response from health officials has been commensurate with the crisis, remains at the mercy of neighboring jurisdictions and visitors.
The true shame, of course, is that reopening schools is essential.
For families with working parents, the prospect of being unable to send their children to school this fall is not feasible. And research from the spring suggests students across the country made less progress while learning remotely than they would have in classrooms; unsurprisingly, minority students were most disadvantaged.
The reality heading into the fall, though, is that educators are facing a staggering challenge in figuring out how to welcome back students in a manner both safe and effective.
It didn’t have to be this way.
And it wouldn’t be, if only the leaders tasked with containing the virus had risen to the challenge.
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Our view: The school year has so far been a success, but the coronavirus, more than the school district, may have the ultimate say about what the next chapter looks like.