Sure, local control sounds good.
Why should every single city and town follow the exact same rules or exact same schedule? Why should every state do what every single other state decides?
But the arguments for local control tend to evaporate when faced with reality. No one argues that every city or town should have a different definition of burglary, for instance. And while states experimented with different rules for marriage, everyone finally decided that maybe letting gay folks get hitched from sea to shining sea wasn’t the worst idea.
In the same way, local control makes little sense when facing a pandemic. Viruses don’t respect county borders. And the state Board of Education’s decision to reject Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order on reopening schools just leaves us scratching our collective head.
Sure, many rural counties understandably feel that they don’t face a threat. But so did many people in larger Kansas cities. Once Kelly’s statewide rules were lifted back in May, counties rushed to reopen. Local control reigned.
And people got sick. The virus spread.
What evidence do members of the state board have that the story will be any different for our state’s schools? Why do they seem to think that allowing some schools to open — with dozens or hundreds of students and teachers packed into poorly ventilated buildings — is a good idea?
We certainly hope that community wide outbreaks don’t follow. But we wouldn’t be surprised if they do.
No, local control in this case was a fig leaf for the larger cultural battles over the coronavirus. There remain many in this state, and across the country, who refuse to believe that we’re facing a real challenge. As long as certain politicians and networks tell them so, they won’t see what’s right in front of their faces.
The way forward is difficult. A popular meme among parents circulated on Facebook shows a woman reacting in identical horror to each one of the options on tap for this fall — in-person classes, remote learning or home schooling.
All of the alternatives will challenge us.
But we are still in the early stages of this pandemic. There is still much we don’t know about how it circulates among children and families. We don’t yet know how safety practices should be implemented in schools. And, perhaps most importantly, we haven’t yet reduced the spread in our communities the way that other countries around the world have.
The state Board of Education should have made a better decision. Now individual school boards and parents will be faced with making those decisions on their own.