Gilman superintendent was right to draw line in sand
In a world filled with political doublespeak and efforts to avoid offending even the most fringe sensibilities, it is refreshing to hear a public official take an unpopular, but necessary stand.
Last week, the Gilman School Board continued its planning on how the sprawling, but sparsely populated, district would reopen this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like other school districts across the state, Gilman is faced with the task of helping students learn, while also ensuring safe conditions for both students and staff. These efforts extend to beyond the normal school day. Challenges of keeping distance between students is hard enough in the classroom, but escalate during long bus rides to and from school.
As with other communities around the state and country, the effort to ensure a safe learning environment becomes muddied by the politics of the pandemic as those who believe the risks to be overblown, condemn what they perceive as an overabundance of caution on behalf of others.
Charged with ensuring a safe environment for students and district staff, Gilman superintendent Wally Leipart correctly stated the risk and the consequences of not taking precautions such as wearing masks, firmly stating that if the district hits a 10% infection rate they are shutting down.
“It’s just that simple. If you are not willing to take the actions to reduce the risk, then the only option is to shut things down,” Leipart said during last week’s special meeting. Throughout the pandemic, Leipart has taken a firm stance on the side of public health.
By drawing the proverbial line in the sand, Leipart sent a clear message that while the district is reopening, it is far from business as usual. It is a lesson that all parents and community members need to hear and understand as they rush forward in their attempts to return to normal.
No matter how much the desire is to return things to a time when temperature checks and face mask mandates were not part of everyday life, until the virus is contained things will not be normal. This is especially true for the large portion of the population that falls within the high risk category due to age and other health conditions. Given the demographic trends over recent years, this atrisk group is a much larger percentage of the overall population in rural areas, a consequence of the graying of rural America.
This is not to say that people should cower and hide, but rather that they should proceed with caution and be ready to pull back if things start going sour. Leipart’s statement set a clear limit on the amount of risk the school district is willing to take before pulling back. Leadership is doing what needs to be done, even when it is not the popular choice. Leipart is to be commended for his leadership.