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Local boards should have control over school opening

It is anyone’s guess what school will look like when it starts this fall. However, what it looks like should be decided at the local level and not in Madison or Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a set of draconian guidelines that stops just short of installing decontamination showers in the entryways of each building and placing every student in a hermetically sealed bubble. Hyperbole aside, the CDC guidelines are simply recommendations that carry about the same weight as your doctor telling you to eat less junk food and to exercise more.

A more important set of guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) will be released to school districts across the state on June 22. This will provide a framework for local school boards to establish their own policies and procedures to meet those guidelines and balance safety with a desire to provide a sense of normalcy for students and staff.

These efforts have become muddied as, in a largely symbolic gesture, Rep. Tom Tiffany recently co-sponsored legislation which would require schools across the country to open substantially the same as in the past or face having federal educational funding pulled.

Tiffany defends the bill, saying his goal is to prevent students from slipping through the cracks. He notes the lack of universal access to high speed internet across northern Wisconsin and the importance of face-to-face instruction. Tiffany’s bill is in stark contrast to statements made while running for offi ce. On Feb. 3, prior to the primary election, he told reporters from WJFW TV 12 in Rhinelander that he would work to reduce the federal government’s role in education.

“[We should] bring control back to local people, bring it back to the states and we will get better educational outcomes rather than have the federal government solve a problem that they can’t solve,” said Tiffany.

While everyone wants things to return to normal, a one-size fits all, top down approach is not the way to make it happen. Local boards must have the flexibility to make decisions they feel are in the best interest of their students and staff without having to meet unrealistic goals set by politicians in Madison and Washington, D.C., coupled with threats to pull much-needed fundings.

Local school officials care passionately about students and education. Putting them in an untenable position to weigh what they believe is needed against loss of funding is wrong. Rather than mandates, the state and federal governments should be providing local schools with the tools they need in order to reopen safely and ensure all children have access to quality public education.