Needed: communication and transparency

These are my planned comments at the October 8 board meeting:

My comments today are not a direct call to re-open schools; others have spoken and will speak on that topic. Instead, I want to address something both broader and more specific at the same time: the lack of transparency and communication by the administration and school board.

In the first place, the district administration has been more than happy to share information on achievements, awards, recognitions. The very first tile on the school district’s website has been telling us, for some time, that our superintendent was honored as superintendent of the year. That’s great.

But when it comes to information on school re-opening, parents, students, and the community are provided with, well, if not nothing, than nearly so.

Of course, many of us remain deeply suspicious of the board and the administration’s true intentions over the summer. Was the sudden last-minute change to remote learning really not so sudden after all because they never intended to re-open in the first place, and only made the announcement at the last minute to avoid parent protests during the summer?

But beyond that, looking solely at actions taken since then:

How many students are back in school already due to the promise to bring in “students in specialized populations and programs”? Which categories of students are in buildings, in what sort of classes? Have there been any cases among these students? Has the issue of protective equipment for nurses and custodians, which was presented as the trigger for cancelling the original back-to-school plan, been sorted out?

What steps is the school board and the school administration taking to plan for future stages? How many students will be allowed per classroom? What process will they follow to increase numbers of students at school beyond the planned one-third? How will they measure the effectiveness of their plan?

The administration is keeping us in the dark about all of this. Superintendent Schuler provided some statements in a Daily Herald interview just after the last board meeting – saying that there were 125 students in buildings, and that there were defined priorities for bring students back, “students who don’t have reliable internet, those who need academic support, those taking lab-based classes and, eventually, all freshmen.”

It is unacceptable that this information was provided to the Daily Herald but not in a communication to parents and to the community.

What’s more, they are changing their plan without even acknowledging that’s what they’re up to.

The original remote plan stated that students would be phased into the school buildings with the following priorities:

• First, “our most vulnerable students – those who are homeless or part of our special needs populations or special programs” as well as for two classes which occur offsite, Practical Architectural and Construction and Aviation.

• Second, “vocational students” as well as those with “dual credit lab-based classes.”

• Third to come into the building will be ” small pods of students – between 10 to 15 per available space according to public health guidelines – to engage those who need reliable internet access or additional supports that can only be accommodated in-person.”

• Fourth will be a hybrid model bringing in “a significantly greater number of our students to attend classes in person on a rotating basis.”

When the school district provided its new metrics, these categories were abandoned. Stage 2 is “special populations only” – that is, special ed and homeless kids — and Stage 3 is the full rotational model, which appears to be what we’re on course for.

At the same time, again, Schuler had previously said that certain kids, including freshmen, would get special priority. Is that still the plan, and we just don’t know it yet?

And finally, the school switched its metrics from using county-wide cases per 100,000 to a metric for only our local area. I support this decision, but the problem is that these changes are not being openly acknowledged. Open communication is important. Honesty about the plan, and about changes in the plan, is critical. I would suspect that even now, large numbers of families, when asked about the October 15 return-to-school date, shrug it off with “I’ll believe it when I see it” because the actions of the board and the administration have led to this mistrust.

The school board and the school administration are acting as if they are wholly unaccountable to anyone, and that’s a violation of the public trust they hold.

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