If there’s one area surrounding the pandemic where consensus has begun to grow, it’s that our children need to be back in school.
Teachers and administrators have performed admirably these last nine months, but it’s clear now that days and weeks spent in front of computer screens and away from educators and classmates have been damaging.
This message is nothing new to residents of Lewis County, many of whom have lobbied for their children to return to in-person instruction for months. The science and data have increasingly shown that, along with precautionary measures, in-person schooling is no more dangerous than virtual learning when it comes to spreading the virus.
It’s worth pointing out that many of our local districts have taken the lead, first with smaller local schools such as Mossyrock and Adna opening their doors and more recently with the Chehalis School District. The Centralia School District plans a March return.
It was encouraging when, last month, Gov. Jay Inslee announced significantly reduced restrictions and recommendations for a return to classrooms.
But more must be done so that the state is not attempting to manage 295 school districts that face completely different circumstances.
Sen. John Braun, a Republican from Centralia, has produced bipartisan legislation along with Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet that would force schools to reopen when they hit a benchmark reflecting the prevalence of COVID-19 in a given community. The decision to shift to virtual learning would still be left to local school districts.
According to previous reporting by The Chronicle, “the metric most commonly used to inform policy and gauge a region’s risk-level is new cases per 100,000 people, with 75 or more cases per 100,000 conferring a high-risk designation. Braun’s bill would mark a shift to the new metric of test positivity — the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive.”
Under his plan, public schools would have to offer in-person learning if the community’s test positive rate fell below 5 percent for two consecutive weeks.
“This metric does not punish communities for testing more, as does a metric tied to cases per population,” the bill reads. “The legislature intends to establish clear school opening metrics based on the positivity standard within counties, so these decisions are transparent and uniform throughout the state of Washington.”
This is, simply put, a more mathematically accurate way of offering guidance to local school districts that can vary vastly when it comes to the amount of testing taking place.
“The problem is when you don’t have even testing around the state,” Braun told The Chronicle. “So if you have to pick between the two, until you can get the exact same amount of testing, you pick the positivity rate. It’s a better indicator.”
Inslee has spent the better part of nine months managing the ongoing pandemic with little to no input from lawmakers. Braun’s bill is just one example why the governor should have called a special session of the Legislature long ago.
Now, with the 2021 session quickly approaching, we’re pleased to see practical and innovative solutions to issues that have for far too long been managed only from the governor’s office.
Our kids need to be in school. This legislation will create clearer guidelines and more clarity, and we urge lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to support it for the health and betterment of our state’s children.
Chad Taylor is publisher of The Chronicle and owner of CT Publishing.