School status should be a local decision
Until local children begin their winter break in a couple of weeks, they will be able to continue attending school in person. Currently, elementary students are going to school full time while two cohorts of middle and high school students are going twice a week on different days of the week.
The process seems to be working. Up to this point, there have been no outbreaks in the schools and a minimal number of exposures experienced by students or staff have been handled quickly, preventing any additional spread. Every student who walks through school doors is greeted with hand sanitizer and a thermometer and they have to wear a mask to get inside the building.
This was made possible when state officials decided to nix its nearly impossible to meet metrics and replace them with ones that were not only more relaxed but based on county case numbers. In addition, because of its relatively good COVID numbers, Crook County School District was granted a safe harbor status. Until Jan. 4, local health officials will determine if schools need to close and return to distance learning.
However, once that safe harbor designation ends, schools close once Crook County case numbers exceed 60 per two-week period. Unfortunately, the community just eclipsed that total and will likely continue to do so in the weeks ahead as cases escalate throughout the country.
So, unless something changes, schools face the possibility of closing again for the foreseeable future — but they shouldn't have to. An argument can easily be made that schools should get to stay open so long as they are not the source of community spread. So far, they are not. In fact, they might be one of the safest public locations in the community outside of medical facilities.
People have already disputed closures of restaurants given that the majority of the outbreaks are attributed primarily to large social gatherings. They have a good argument – masks and social distancing are required at most, if not all, businesses while social gatherings do not likely include a mask or social distance mandate.
Schools have an even stronger argument. The temperature checks and cohort efforts should make spread of the coronavirus even less likely.
In a recent message to school district families and the public, Dr. Sara Johnson, school district superintendent, said the state is not offering any more safe harbor designations. If case numbers get too high, regardless of the source, kids start learning online again.
This is not the right move. The right move would be to keep the decision in the hands of local health officials, whose job it is to monitor the cases and their sources. There is no reason to believe that they would keep schools open if they were part of the problem.
Hopefully, between now and Jan. 4, state health and government leaders will once again revisit their rules and make a change that allows students to stay in school as long as it continues to be safe.
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