EDITORIAL: At risk

Orders regarding schools threaten students’ welfare

It might be argued that many decisions regarding our children’s education too often is driven by politics rather than what’s best for the students. A current mandate from our president and Texas’ governor could force some parents to choose between sending their children to school and risk exposure to a potentially lethal virus, or let them stay home and fall behind in their school work to a level that could take years to fully recover from.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials, eager to comply with President Trump’s wishes despite warnings from medical experts that already have proved true, continue to demand that our state’s public schools reopen this month for the fall semester — even though in many parts of the state including the Rio Grande Valley, the pandemic is affecting more people than when campuses were ordered to close in the name of protecting public health.

That bears repeating: Current conditions are worse, and in South Texas much worse, than the conditions that forced schools to close their doors in the first place.

And yet President Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott both have ordered that schools reopen or risk losing federal and state funding.

Several school districts, mayors and county judges said the risks were still too high. In response state Attorney General Ken Paxton — who has sued the federal government nearly 50 times alleging government overreach — declared local orders invalid.

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath has offered a compromise, saying that schools could offer remote learning but must offer in-class instruction to those families that need or want it. They can begin the semester with full remote learning, as part of an eight-week transition period to reopening the campuses. If a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in a school it can be closed, but only for five class days.

That gives us a twomonth window to pray that the pandemic subsides — and to do our part to make it happen.

However, some parents already have said they’d rather keep their kids home. Many teachers with vested pensions are choosing to retire rather than put their health at risk.

Naturally, we hope the pandemic dies out quickly. We hope a return to class doesn’t incite a new spike in contagion. And if the disease lingers beyond the eight-week transition period, we trust that state officials will show prudence and revisit the mandate.

Certainly, educators and social leaders already are learning from the pandemic’s effects on our society, and we can expect some private and charter schools to offer remote classes on a permanent basis, which could help many students with illnesses, disabilities and other challenges. Home schooling resources also are likely to expand in response to greater demand. Legislators who convene in January can expect louder calls to raise or even erase the current cap on school charters, which was too low to meet public demand even before this health crisis exposed the need for more scholastic options.

This pandemic can teach us a lot about how to lessen the effects of any future crisis. Let’s hope those who are in positions of authority are willing to learn.