Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.
By executive order of Governor Phil Scott, school is now officially to begin on Sept. 8. At first glance there seems to be little reason to doubt that it will, especially considering the support for in-person teaching by the governor and Commissioner of Health Mark Levine. And after all, children are the least likely among us to suffer any illness from the Covid-19 virus and Vermont’s rate of infection is low. Our children have been spared of the deadly effects. The death rate for school age children percentage wise is essentially zero.
Yet, there is doubt being raised by many school administrators. It is reported that many teachers and other support staff are balking at coming back to work and some say staffing will be insufficient to handle in-person teaching.
Officials overreacted and shut down an entire economy back in March that resulted in much more pain, suffering, illness, and loss of life than the disease caused, without protecting us from transmission. We just learned that the economy contracted to a greater degree than ever before in our history in the second quarter. We cannot repeat that mistake! We should have learned a lesson from that to apply to our opening of schools for in-person teaching. Children need to be in school and parents need to be able to go to work.
We must be smart and protect the vulnerable students, teachers and staff. We can do that with reasonable precautions to reduce the likelihood of transmission. We must not, out of fear and the quest for an impossible 0% infection rate, destroy one of our most critically needed institutions. Our children must get a quality useful education to compete in an ever increasingly complex world. That will not happen when real solutions and rational thought give way to unworkable education delivery gimmicks. We must not over-react and turn school into one frenetic futile protective activity after another while losing track of the need to educate the children.
There are those right now in Vermont considering and working toward forsaking school in school houses and teaching students outdoors. Education is not just an outdoor field trip. Can they really be serious? In Vermont? In the winter? What about toileting? What about eating? Just think about it all and when you stop shaking your head in disbelief, realize that some are serious about this. “I want my mommy” will be a cry heard throughout the state.
The time is now to re-imagine education since public schooling has failed us in so many ways. Home schooling applications are up 75% in Vermont over last year and many are finding that option better meets the educational needs of their children. I have heard homeschooling referred to as the “new revolution”.
More parents are now considering private schools. Even religious schools are more available to students. Recently, in a landmark case, the US Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Montana Dept of Revenue, ruled that public funds used for scholarships to private schools cannot constitutionally be denied just because the school is religious in nature. Other states have led the way in micro schooling where up to ten students come together to do school. Charter schools have joined with home-schoolers to give them in-school options.
That still leaves many to endure a failed public school system. School choice vouchers must be expanded to give all parents the ability to fulfill their hope to send their child to the best school possible. Let competition reign. Redirect our tax money to a vital and exciting new educational paradigm. Just imagine it.