Saturday, December 2, 2023

Balancing Perspectives, Superintendent’s View

As we approach the two-year mark of when schools were first closed because of COVID-19 on March 13, 2020, I still seek to balance all voices and to genuinely understand the points of view and related strategies of different members of our school community.

With 2,800 families and almost 400 staff members, I can assure you that opinions are indeed different at times. After two years of listening to numerous passionate and evidence-backed points of view on the use of masks, testing, vaccines and requirements, it is clear that there is no universal viewpoint. There is no consensus on where “we” as a community stand on the issues, yet I receive daily demands to “stand up and show some courage” on these issues from all sides.

Emails and calls demanding that we defy public health orders, whether to go beyond them or to remove them, are a tremendous distraction from our primary work of educating students. Our job in public education is teaching and learning. Educators are not epidemiologists, health practitioners, or politicians. We are responsible for ensuring access to learning for all students and following all mandates, not just health, that apply to public schools. This duty of care is at the core of our mission. We do not have local authority to defy mandates. As a public agency, public schools are legally required to enforce state and county mandates or risk closure and institutional and personal legal liability.

Messages that advocate for our district to ignore or cease and desist implementation of mandates tell me that the sender wants us to disregard the viewpoints of all of the other students and staff members in my care. They are interpreted as chiefly concerned with their own personal comfort and opinions, and in some cases at the detriment of others within our community. Individuals who urge the school district to defy mandates believe strongly that their positions are the only ones grounded in fact. I respect that each believes strongly and shares concern for children. There is an assumption that we have the local authority to ignore or defy CDPH orders. We do not. Or that some voices are more important than others. They are not.

Our community is experiencing the fatigue and disruption of this long period of pandemic and the frequent changes in circumstances and in messaging. I understand and often share the frustration. I recognize the impact the pandemic has had on children. I am also living it and navigating current conditions with my own two children. The wellbeing of all staff and students and a focus on learning is my primary concern.

From my point of view, what would go a long way to unite our community is for all sides to seek understanding and respect of others’ views and to understand that our schools must follow the guidance of local health officials. There is no individual who would supersede that guidance and it is not a matter of will or personal views. Health mandates come from the state and county levels, not from school districts.

While recognizing the effects of the pandemic for two years, I am also optimistic that efforts are trending in the right direction. Our local COVID data has been encouraging, as has messaging from health officials. Meanwhile, our priority will be continued compliance to ensure that in-person teaching and learning with our colleagues and classmates will continue. Our ability to navigate these challenging times are interdependent on one another. It is difficult enough without local division. I would like to advocate for unity and not causing further strain on each other in the process. I continue to believe that we all want our students in school safely in order to focus on teaching and learning. I also believe that everyone in our community cares deeply for our staff and students and, for that, I am more than grateful.

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