Rarely has a new school year been more fraught with frustration and confusion. Normally at this time of year, parents are maneuvering through store aisles trying to snag the last BOGO deal on No. 2 pencils and children are wrangling for the latest thing in sneakers and backpacks.
But in 2020, we have families divided between debating whether it’s worth the health risk to send their children back to classrooms if schools reopen for in-class learning and which parent will have to quit a job to home school if they don’t.
It certainly doesn’t help when leaders at every level seem to be vying for the authority to make the all-important call — and stepping all over and around each other in the process.
The president at one point gave himself the authority to do it on a national level, even threatening to withhold funding from schools that don’t open fully — as in all in-class from the start — and on time. Medical authorities, rightfully, are weighing in, as are governors and local elected leaders. Debates are raging on social media.
All the while, our children are in limbo, waiting to know what their new school year will look like.
Some no doubt welcome the delay and disruption. But most probably are hoping for a return to some semblance of normalcy, especially since the 2019-2020 school year was cut short so abruptly. Not many people are debating that children belong in school for all of the educational, social and psychological benefits the setting offers. It’s just a matter of getting them there safely.
As if to drive home the point about mixed messages in regard to school reopening, a brouhaha was broiling in the Clear Creek Independent School District on Tuesday. The district’s 40,000 or so students are divided among the northern reaches of Galveston County and southern Harris County, with about 25 of its 45 campuses in Harris County.
The geographical divide normally isn’t an issue, but it became one last week when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a health order prohibiting schools from opening before Sept. 8.
The problem? Galveston County is not under a similar order.
Clear Creek’s reopening plan had been to host all students online starting Aug. 24, and then all in-person learning would return by Sept. 8. But pre-kindergartners, kindergartners, sixth graders, ninth graders and special education students were set to return to in-person classes Aug. 31 — directly in conflict with Hidalgo’s order.
Clear Creek officials announced Wednesday they would go ahead with their original reopening plans, despite the conflict. They argued they are following guidance by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who says school officials have ultimate authority about school openings and closings.
We’re in the district’s corner on this. For all of the posturing around school reopening on all levels, who knows what’s best for the children and families they serve better than local school officials assessing the situation with local health and other local leaders? Keyword: local.
The coronavirus pandemic is an all-hands-on-deck crisis that touches every aspect of society. But not all hands need to be on every deck all the time. Sometimes, the best touch is a local touch.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner