Editorial: As we return to school, it is time for leaders to share more information

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

When dealing with the pandemic and a return to school, it is easy to say we want to be as safe as we can be. It is much harder to actually mean it.

Being as safe as we possibly can be would mean not returning to in-person classes until a vaccine is developed and administered. Very few people actually are advocating for that. After all, that may involve a process of several years, and even that timeline is not certain.

It is clear that coping with the pandemic involves trade-offs and a series of risk-versus-reward calculations. So, let’s quit saying that we want to be as safe as we can be. That may not be a mindset helpful to making the choices that are required at this unique moment in history.

Instead, perhaps we ought to be saying we want to be as compassionate as we can be.

What would that look like as it relates to returning to school? Several area districts, as we have reported, are showing that compassion by giving parents a choice of whether they want their students to attend school entirely through a remote format or through some modified version of in-person classes. It is compassionate to give those parents not yet comfortable with a return to classes a remote-only option.

Conversely, does that mean a decision like the one by the Lawrence school district to offer only remote learning for the first six weeks of the school year is lacking compassion? Not necessarily, and that is not the point of this editorial. These are really difficult times for leaders, and there are a multitude of factors they must consider. (Showing compassion for staff, for instance is also key, and in some ways more difficult.) The public should give a fair amount of grace as leaders work to make those decisions.

But one point that can fairly be made is that we shouldn’t assume the most compassionate decision is to simply have remote learning. It is a fact that the remote learning situation will mean many will be in private day care facilities when they normally would be in school. What makes us believe those private day care facilities will do a better job of controlling spread of the virus than our public schools?

Perhaps the easiest thing our leaders can do to show compassion is to share information. A compassionate world works hard to avoid creating groups of “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to information. But it appears such a situation is developing in Douglas County.

The Journal-World last week asked the local health department to share what guidelines it has related to the return of in-person classes. It declined to share those guidelines because they are still in draft form. That denial was unnecessary. The public has seen draft documents before. It can be trusted to digest them.

It is clear that area school districts have access to the guidelines. Eudora school board members were discussing them in general during an open meeting recently. That creates a situation where we have a group of leaders with information, but the people who will be forced to follow their decisions don’t have the same information. That doesn’t create trust, and it makes achieving buy-in from the public more difficult. Hopefully our leaders understand that public buy-in is critically important to fighting this pandemic.

If the health department won’t release the draft guidelines, school districts should. When they are released, hopefully they will show we are following a model similar to what the Harvard Global Health Institute has put together. In conjunction with several organizations, Harvard has assigned a color code to every county in the country based on the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people that each county is generating.

Douglas County, in case you are curious, is ranked yellow. That is the second best ranking out of the four rankings assigned. A companion piece provides guidance for schools, and it suggests that yellow communities can safely return to in-person classes at all levels K-12, if districts are able to meet certain conditions.

That doesn’t mean that is automatically what we should do. Not much is automatic in this pandemic world. But this should be: Let’s share information, let’s pay attention to the data, and let’s be guided by compassion.


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