Let local health departments decide on school openings

Some public schools in West Virginia may be ready to reopen for the fall semester. They cannot do that, however. Gov. Jim Justice has decreed that schools will reopen on Sept. 8 — no sooner and no later.

Justice’s concern for safety is understandable. COVID-19 has made quite a comeback in West Virginia.

Rather, it has come roaring back in many, but not all, counties. If you are a parent in Monongalia County, which last Monday recorded 394 active cases of the disease, Sept. 8 may seem on the optimistic side to you.

But what about Doddridge County? As of Monday, it was the only county in the state where not a single case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed. Ever. Or what about Tyler County, where the active-case count Monday stood at two?

It may well be that counties such as these, with relatively low (or in Doddridge, no) penetration by the coronavirus, schools could open safely by mid-August.

Just across the river in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine is leaving school opening decisions largely up to local officials. Some education officials in East Ohio hope to reopen by mid-August.

Whether that will happen depends on the epidemic. If it becomes worse in a certain county, school officials there may postpone reopening.

Here in the Mountain State, we aren’t being given a choice. It’s Sept. 8, period (though in fairness to the governor, it has to be said an explosion of COVID-19 could prompt him to set the date back even more).

I know of officials in some counties who are champing at the bit to begin the new academic year. Some had plans for mid- to late-August when the governor issued his mandate.

It has been said that education is too important to leave up to educators. That’s one reason many want kids back in classrooms. “Distance learning” may do some good for some students — but in a household where mom and dad don’t really care about education, days out of school can be days off.

Public health is too important to be left to educators, too. Perhaps that’s what the governor is thinking.

But why not leave the decision up to local health departments? They have the expertise — not to mention the knowledge of local conditions — to make decisions on whether schools can be reopened safely.

There is no absolutely safe time for reopening, of course. But at some point, we have to weigh the hazards — including those of kids not being in school — against the safeguards and take a chance.

We’ve been urged to “obey the science.” How is Sept. 8 science?

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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