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Let ‘gating criteria’ stay local

Almost at the end of a rather lengthy news release issued Tuesday by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) is the sentence, “Schools are remaining open under unsafe conditions.” No kidding. Life in general is staying open under unsafe conditions. That’s not exactly breaking news anymore.

The gist of WEAC’s statement regards the lack of safe, consistent guidelines across Wisconsin under which schools are allowed to remain open for in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. WEAC is a teachers’ union with a main goal of protecting and speaking up for its teacher members. With that we have no problem; WEAC makes sure educators are treated fairly by the school districts that employ them, and we believe teachers are among our most important professionals.

However, we disagree with WEAC’s general assumption that a statewide “gating criteria” is the way forward through the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t believe that conditions in Loyal or Greenwood are anywhere near what they are in Janesville or Madison, so why push a one-size-fitsall set of rules upon all districts? If any district at all is able to stay open for in-person instruction -- which few disagree is the best for learning -without risking the health of students and staff, then we ought to let them be. So far, at least in our immediate area, schools have been able to get through one-third of the 2020-21 school year without going to online education plans. That’s awesome. Don’t tell them they need to shut down now because there’s a COVID hot spot in Waukesha or La Crosse.

WEAC’s argument -- again, in support of teachers -- is that some districts are choosing to stay open when they should not be. Those districts may be responding to political pressure or other external forces and not making decisions based on science, and that, WEAC asserts, puts all educators at risk. Perhaps. But why punish districts where such things aren’t happening?

We know from firsthand observation that our four districts (Granton, Greenwood, Loyal and Spencer) highly respect their teachers and support staff, and would not knowingly put them in harm’s way. If administrators here think for a moment their teachers are at undue risk, they will shut school down. They understand two things about their teachers: 1.) They are professional people whose first priority is their students, and 2.) If the teachers get sick (and there are almost no substitutes available), that’s it, the gig’s up. Lock the doors and go virtual.

While we recognize and sympathize with WEAC’s efforts to protect all educators, we can’t back a policy that would force some schools that are doing well to shut down just for some wonkish “gating criteria.” We trust our schools to make decisions based on what’s best for everybody. The state hasn’t done aything yet to show us it could handle things any better.