One of the biggest decisions to be made this summer is whether to reopen elementary, middle and high schools, and, if so, how.
National elected and appointed leaders have every right, and a responsibility, to research what is going on with this ongoing pandemic and make recommendations and suggestions about what states and school districts should do this fall. In Louisiana last week, we heard the views of the vice president and the head of the U.S. Department of Education.
But with schools run by local and state officials, the primary governing authorities are Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and local school districts, working with the state Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
There's nothing wrong with a national school reopening policy statement. That would calm concerns, establish expectations and perhaps set a timetable for benchmarks as we all move along to open schools — on different dates, or in different ways, depending on the safety issues in specific cities and counties across America.
However, the decisions still in the works — whether at school boards in parishes, or in Baton Rouge — remain complex.
The problem is we have an ongoing public health emergency. We are going to prolong the pandemic if we do not listen to local, state and national public health officials. For some time, we have been told it is best not to set dates and follow them, that the better option is to review and follow the data.
President Donald Trump and his U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos insist on reopening schools. We want schools open, too, but the practical decisions will be made far from Washington, D.C.
Our focus must be on keep our students safe, at home and at school. Edwards has required all of us in Louisiana to wear masks when in public, even kids as young as eight years old. Opening schools means several health measures must be instituted, including staggered bus transportation so social distancing can be maintained. Teachers must be able to educate our children while keeping 20 or 30 classroom students socially distant in the same space for a class. The health of school administrators, office and janitorial staff and others must be considered as well. Some parents of younger children will be dropping off and picking up students.
Rather than wish things were different, we hope federal leaders and officials will present a balanced and hopefully a consensus approach about what it takes to safely reopen schools, including specific costs and precautions, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while encouraging and supporting state elected officials and school district officials to make good choices.