Updated 9.16.20 with meeting video.
At last night’s meeting of the Whitewater Unified School District’s board, the board voted unanimously to offer a choice of either face-to-face or virtual instruction beginning September 28th and continuing through the semester (absent any alterations in the event of significant COVID-19 infections). Parents received, last night, an email requesting their choice for their children’s instruction.
A few remarks —
1. Health Trumps Estimates. In these months since the pandemic led to significant restrictions in March, it has always been true that how people fare, and how institutions actually function, matters more than mere estimates of either. I’ve avoided estimates of my own, in the same way that a reasonable layperson avoids calculating the trajectories of interplanetary probes: it’s a job best left to those familiar with the field.
(During the comment period last night, a parent questioned the soundness of interpretations of epidemiological data by laypeople. Yes, and yes again. A commitment to learning – where one truly respects formal study – requires an acknowledgment that almost everyone involved in these discussions is untrained in public health or epidemiology. They’ve a responsibility to decide, but these decisions require humility, as some officials last night readily acknowledged.)
There are, however, two sound assumptions that require no training at all: parents will be unforgiving about injuries to their children and the true test of all past and current estimates begins now that school returns to session (for K12 and for the local college campus).
2. Politics. Ordinarily, an action from a school board or town council would have an immediately discernible political consequence (about those the decision benefitted, and those it did not). That’s not true about this pandemic: a determination – at least a serious one – depends on the outcome of the pandemic months from now, stretching into the new year. Political estimates now would be ephemeral only; a lasting assessment depends on how actions today look next year.
3. Scarcely Begun at All. Watches, phones, and wall calendars all tell the same tale: this school district has been in session for only two weeks, and only about ten school days during that time. However this semester unfolds, the academic year has hardly started. There have been no large-group daily interaction as would be typical with a face-to-face return. Doubt not: the moral position is – and must be – that one hopes against injury. It’s simply a blunt concession that schools across the country have, as yet, limited experience with returning classes.
4. Money for New Employees and Supplies. While I’m supportive of those who worry about the costs of protective items for classes, as government should be limited (and frugal to keep it limited), the cost of protective items, and support staff, is trivial as against the cost of immediate injury.
Indeed, even the mere economic loss from this current recession (excluding economic estimates of personal injury) is so great that the cost of a few more employees, protective barriers, etc., should be unnoticeable by comparison.
After this pandemic ends, Whitewater will still be struggling economically. That’s not a public health prediction; it’s a sound assessment that Whitewater’s stagnant, pre-pandemic economy will experience especial difficulty recovering from the current recession. Minimizing additional loss in the way the district is considering – a few people more, a few more supplies – is no burden at all.
A post-pandemic economy that yet remains stagnant is a burden the community will have to face and overcome.
Public comment should be free and unguided, with restrictions only for time limits or against profanity. It is natural that some members of the public will be emotional; they should be allowed to express themselves (as they were allowed last night). The public comments last night were well-handled — extending the time for the few additional speakers in queue was the right decision.
The fewer interruptions to an administrative presenter’s remarks the better. Holding board members’ questions until the end of a presenter’s remarks makes it easier for the public to follow.