Corey Holland column: Educators, Public Health Experts

September 25, 2020

There are a just a few areas where I would dare claim to be extremely knowledgeable, or for lack of a better description, an expert. One is public education. From educating and motivating students as a teacher to now as an assistant superintendent, I feel comfortable referring to myself as an expert. Yet even saying that out loud I must immediately admit I still have a lot to learn. I didn’t just magically become an expert. No, I had to work at it. I obtained a bachelor degree, a master’s degree, as well as passed multiple state certification tests. I am very comfortable being asked to lead in this area because I have been trained and equipped to do so. Recently, public school leaders have been asked to take the lead in an area where we have very little education and training: public health. I find this fascinating and frustrating, but not all that surprising.

It is fascinating because we get so many directives from “above” on how to educate students. More often, we are given exact directions about how to do school, and, not just on the big things, but on endless numbers of little things. Educators can hardly develop any kind of plan without first making sure we are “compliant” to all the state and federal mandates. There are endless amounts of red tape to work through; so much so, we don’t really have cause to use our expertise. The recipe is there and we are essentially forced to follow it by checking all the little boxes. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Public schools receive a lot of public funds, your tax dollars, and there is a need for accountability. No educator worth his/her salt argues for zero accountability. Instead, we argue for more flexibility.

Each district is unique and has its own set of challenges and circumstances when it comes to educating students. Each district has its own strengths and weaknesses, too. Yet, the mountain of mandates placed on schools has the default assumption that there is one way to get to the goal. Most of us realize this is not the case with much of anything in life. The truth is, the burden of mandates creates a situation, which is a far cry from local control. It hardly allows for it at all, and therein lies the frustration.

It took a pandemic, COVID19, for schools to be given full local control. Educators should be grateful, right? Problem is, full local control is only being applied in the area of public health, which I have already stated, is an area where we have very little knowledge, training, or expertise. If our state leaders really believed in local control, as they claim wouldn’t it stand to reason they would first allow it in the area of our expertise? Why on public health policy, and why now? This is bad public policy.

Giving schools full local control on public health places the burden of mitigating the dangers of COVID-19 squarely on the shoulders of untrained educators. Schools today are not what you remember them to be. We still teach “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” but we do so much more. Schools provide: meals, transportation, immunizations, nursing services, CPR training, counseling, technology such as laptops & hotspots, and more. Now, it seems schools must develop and implement public health policy in order to protect students and staff from a historic, world- wide pandemic. We continue to change the primary purpose of a school, which is educating students.

As educators, we have chosen to embrace the challenge. What other choice do we have? We have implemented a plan at our school after much discussion and effort. I believe it is a very good plan, and so far, it has proven to be effective. Even so, I cannot say it is an expert plan because we do not know how to develop public health policy. We will gladly accept direction from leaders and experts who do.

Our only goal is keeping our students and staff safe. We need expert help and leadership on this immediately. Surely this is an area where we can find common ground. Local control is a great idea on many education policies and procedures but I believe it is bad public policy for schools to lead on public health matters.