What About This?

By Wayne William Cipriano

School is on the way!

And now that our school-bus transportation controversy is settled (we hope!), it is a good time to think about other aspects of our public schools. And for the time being let us set aside the most important, the chief, the one overriding reason we have public education: Educational Excellence.

We are a rural area with a fairly large county and a fairly small population. We seemed to have dodged the Covid-19 bullet so far, if the numbers we have seen are accurate. 

I’m not sure how much of the virus dodging is the result of the “protections” (hand washing, masks, distancing, staying home that we hear about interminably) and how much of our low case number is simply because our face-to-face interactions are low compared to places with much denser populations. That suggestion certainly has a great deal of support when you see how densely populated areas got hit first and hardest while more sparsely populated areas seemed to skate.

It looks to me that plenty of entities are foregoing the virus “protections” in order to return to financial health. One of the greatest of these is airline companies. On planes, persons are sitting close together for long periods of time, sometimes talking, occasionally singing or shouting, always exchanging air already breathed by another passenger. Besides airliners, two other places we see those virus-baiting situations are houses of worship and schools.

People can decide which religious services they wish to attend or even if, and that becomes a discussions between the potential attendees and the object of their attention. But, consider that school attendance, unlike attendance in other establishments is, I believe, required by law.

I do not know what laws the State of Missouri has regarding school attendance, but I suspect the State requires children of a certain age be educated in public schools, private schools, home schools, and so on.

Many people cannot afford private schools and cannot or do not wish to home school. That leaves, for the most part, state-mandated education in the realm of public school.

When public schools in Douglas County reopen, will there be a concern over exposing students to Covid-19?

There are parents who resist inoculating their children against childhood diseases for “health reasons” as contradictory as that sounds, even when those inoculations have proven extremely safe and effective over decades sometimes over centuries. Perhaps these parents are trusting to  “herd immunity” and the good graces of nature to protect their kids while putting those who cannot be inoculated in danger? Such foolishness is fodder for another article.

But if some guardians will prevent safe protection of their wards against terrible diseases on the basis of very questionable reasoning, how will they react to exposing their children to a very real and very present danger? And what about the rest of us who are more rational and clearly understand the potential danger of a Covid-19 infection?

Sure, our public schools will take all the reasonable precautions to protect our students. Of course, that word “reasonable” has a lot of components, financial being only one. I’ve heard of one college that plans to open earlier than usual so that students will not go home for Thanksgiving, return for finals, then go back home for Christmas, I guess they are trying to limit the amount of infection brought back to the college after Thanksgiving and then “sent out” during the Christmas break. But, to open early when Covid-19 is raging to avoid infection later in the year when it might have cooled down seems counterintuitive. But what do I know, I’m a rancher, not Dr. Fauci. Some of us understand how so many maladies generally avoided in a more loosely populated area and by a rural lifestyle can be brought home to us (and our grandparents, and our pre-school children, and even our childless neighbors) by students attending school.

Our President has decided that tightly-packed, long lasting gatherings of folks may be dangerous enough to those folks that they are required to sign a legal waiver (of doubtful validity) to forestall suits filed against him, his party, and presumably the venue should they contract Covid-19 after one of his rallies.

Can our public schools also require such a waiver?  And should a guardian refuse to sign such a waiver and/or refuse to send their wards to school, would they face the possibility of inconvenient or even dire consequences? And should a student “forced” to attend school contract the virus, would their parents bring suit against the school district for damages, compensatory and punitive? Could such a suit be brought?

Don’t misunderstand me here. There is NO ONE who believes in or more strongly supports Public Education than I. Heck, I don’t even begrudge the taxes I pay to support it; and for a tightwad like me, that’s saying a lot because I have benefited so directly and so valuably from Public Education. 

I am interested in what seems to me to be a large potential problem on our horizon that we face as a community through our School Board. I hope our Board will take a leadership role in facing and solving this dilemma of Covid-19 and education now and not wait to be “guided by some other higher agency” in order to avoid the duty and responsibility to which they were elected.

Now is the time for our newly reconstituted Board of Education to act.