Right before the Christmas holiday began, Gov. Kevin Stitt seemed to be trying to usurp the authority granted to local school boards to force campuses to reopen in the midst of the pandemic. But he needs to stand down.
Stitt’s frustration is understandable, and it’s shared by hundreds of thousands of working parents across the state. What are they to do with their young children when their jobs require them to be at the workplace, rather than performing their duties from home? And what about parents of special-needs students, who are ill-equipped to provide the essential services their kids need? For that matter, what about regular parents who simply don’t feel qualified to impart the type of education to which their offspring are entitled?
And entitled to it they are. The Oklahoma Constitution guarantees all children in this state a free education. And far and away the best option for the vast majority of Oklahoma parents is a public school. There are many fine private schools in the state, but most parents can’t afford them.
Stitt said he wanted every school child to have an in-person option in January. Getting students back into the classroom early next year is “non-negotiable,” he said. He did admit he didn’t really have the power to force reopenings, so it seems unclear what he might be able to do, except throw his weight around from the bully pulpit of the governor’s mansion.
But here’s the rub: Schools in Cherokee County have been trying desperately to remain open. For the most part, they’ve been offering three options when they can: on-campus education, virtual only, or a combination of both. But as cases have spiked, they’ve been forced to close at different periods of time.
This is not because administrators are politically liberal, or because they’re cowards. It’s because they, or their teachers and support staff, have come down with COVID-19, or students have – and they don’t want to expose everyone else to this disease. In short, it’s because they care about their employees and their students that they’ve made these agonizing decisions.
Stitt was right to move teachers and support staff up from Phase 3 to Phase 2 on the vaccination priority list. This means they’ll be able to get their shots along with health care workers, first responders, older adults, those with compromised immune systems, and “senior state, county, and city government leaders," among others.
That last part is rather ironic, even laughable – considering the number of those politicians who initially claimed COVID-19 was a hoax, or "not that serious." They have plenty of nerve, metaphorically shoving others out of the way to get their vaccinations. One can only hope voters will remember the names of the naysayers who are suddenly "converts" – and are anxious to grab a serum that could have been used by someone who was a science believer from the start.
There’s another positive that can come of all this: Oklahomans may finally appreciate educators for their incalculable value. Without them, our children would be intellectually doomed. This should now be clear to everyone – even the enemies of public education.
As far as decisions on when to reopen the schools and how to do it, we’re confident that at least in Cherokee County, our administrators will do this as soon as it’s humanly – and safely – possible. They don’t need pressure from a politician.