Editorial: Consistency best plan for schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 24, 2020

Gov. Roy Cooper may have meant well by telling schools last week they’re able return to a normal, in-person schedule for grades K-5, but logistical questions about doing that loom large, perhaps too large to expect changes any time soon.

Rowan-Salisbury School Board member Dean Hunter said as much during a meeting this week. A self-proclaimed cheerleader for sending all students to school in person on a normal schedule, Hunter said it’s not wise to abandon the current, blended model without more information.

“I don’t think we’re ready,” he said.

There are questions about transporting students in a time when social distancing is still a best practice on school buses as well as other basic logistics of the school day. That Cooper’s announcement came as a surprise for educators across the state didn’t help.

Yes, in-person learning offers many benefits for individual education over a model that splits the week between in-person and online classes. But particularly now, in the middle of a semester, is it wise to change everything? Educators across the district already spent many emotional sleepless nights trying to finalize plans in place now. What compelling reason exists to reverse course now?

Data being collected by Rowan-Salisbury Schools staff for a future school board meeting will help make a determination. If data prove, or even raise the specter, that learning among a significant swath of students has stalled or is progressing too slowly, it may be worthwhile to make the switch.

That switch could look something like Union County, which chose to move to four days of in-person learning, with Friday as a virtual day. School board member Josh Wagner this week offered a similar possibility, suggesting that RSS keep Wednesday as a virtual-only day if there is a change.

Wagner also offered an opinion that seems all too prescient now for Republicans and Democrats: politics is playing too large a role in decisions about schools. Consistency, not incremental decisions, is best for K-12 schoolchildren, he said.

“There is constant uncertainty and upheaval,” Wagner said. “And I’m sorry that we don’t have folks that are elected, at higher levels than we are certainly, to make better decisions and to make them more effectively without worrying about their seat or their paycheck. I’m really mostly sorry for the children who are still sitting at home who we have to worry about.”

With cases in schools relatively low across the state and clusters few and far between, it was OK for Cooper to offer the ability to switch to plan A (all in-person classes) to schools. But it’s best to aim for consistency in any plan unless the negatives are too great or the logistical hurdles are manageable. While there are no easy decisions in education today, Cooper could make things slightly easier by ensuring superintendents and educators tasked with implementing changes aren’t caught by surprise during live-streamed press conferences.