An attack on public education and a threat to public health
Attacks on public education have existed almost since the creation of public education. As the president and CEO of an organization – the Southern Education Foundation – which established public education in the South over 150 years ago, I know this to be true. Today we face continued efforts to funnel precious dollars from the public schools that educate the majority of students of color and students from low income families and into private schools. In a previous column, I described the racist history of these efforts. Now that approach has taken an even more sinister turn, threatening the health of students and educators.
As school districts across the country struggle to find ways to protect the health and safety of returning students, the Florida Board of Education has decided to provide private education vouchers – funded with public funds to education – to parents in school districts who require masks to be worn in schools. The move undermines local control and authority over local schools and drains funds from an already underfunded public school system. To make matters worse, it also endangers public health, posing a threat to school district leaders trying to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that they need masks to prevent the spread. deadly disease and highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant.
Putting aside the fact that the CDC is the leading US authority on best practices to reduce – and hopefully stop one day – the spread of COVID-19, the Board’s decision also contravenes recommendations from local health authorities. In many areas, school districts are working closely with local task forces of medical and public health experts to make recommendations for the next school year. The sole purpose of these working groups is to provide expert advice on issues related to COVID-19 and to recommend best practices to local school boards for operating schools safely.
From our inception, the Southern Education Foundation has been committed to helping develop school and district leaders who understand and work to best serve the interests of their communities. This work is difficult in “ordinary” times. In times as extraordinary as those we face today, serving the academic success of students, as well as their physical, emotional and social needs, requires great skills, expertise and experience, as well as the contribution of experts. leading health care.
In school districts across the country, district leaders go out of their way to ensure that they provide the best possible environment for students to learn and thrive. They chat with researchers, public health and medical experts, mental health experts, community leaders, parents, and even students themselves. Now is not the time to threaten their already tight budgets or their salaries if they do not bow to the political will.
Currently, Florida is one of the two worst states in the country for the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19. (It’s just behind Texas where Gov. Greg Abbott, like Gov. Ron DeSantis, opposed mask warrants.) Prevent schools from requiring masks, which can prevent transmission of the virus (especially in pupils under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated), will only serve to increase the number of infected and hospitalized children.
School district leaders are not making decisions about mask requirements in a vacuum. Their decisions are based on input from medical experts, public health experts, mental health experts, parents and students. It is time for the Florida Board of Education, the governor, and leaders across the country to put their faith and trust in the people who have been entrusted with the education and safety of their children by local communities, and let them do their best. job.