As difficult as the coronavirus pandemic has been for all of us, our children were the least equipped to handle the sudden disruption of their daily lives and routines. Ripped from in-school learning, sports and extracurricular activities and social interactions critical to their intellectual, physical and emotional development, they were thrust into a world of inactivity, isolation and remote learning. We should not continue to ignore the consequences.
We have heard much about “following the science” and the data throughout the pandemic. We have all accepted limits on personal freedoms imposed on us through countless, often contradictory, executive orders issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, simply because in the face of the unknown, that appeared to be the safest course of action. In order to “stop the spread,” we sacrificed our liberty in pursuit of the general good of all.
One year later, however, we are still ceding local control of education to a governor and a state Board of Education that continue to enforce policies that the science and the data simply do not support. Schools have safely resumed sports activities with very few, if any, Covid-19 cases and even fewer incidents of transmission. Yet while students are permitted to participate in wrestling matches, two trumpet players must remain 12 feet apart. In districts that permit in-person learning, there have been virtually no incidents of in-school transmission of the virus, yet students must quarantine if someone in their class contracts it, despite wearing masks and being surrounded on three sides by Plexiglas in classrooms. Many parents can’t watch their kids play for school teams — even outdoors.
The data tell us that because of the outstanding work of our school districts, administrators, teachers, staff members and students, in conjunction with local departments of health, the in-school Covid transmission rate remains far below that of the surrounding communities. It is simply safer to have your kids in school — and it’s better for them. Area school districts have proven that they can act, and have done so efficiently, even when faced with the challenge of outdated and conflicting policies imposed by Albany.
We have local boards of education because we believe as a state and a society that the best decisions for our students are made at the local level. The governor may have heard of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, the Seaford School District or any of our other area districts, but what does he know about local conditions in Wantagh’s Mandalay Elementary School, or Freeport High School? Probably very little, if anything.
But local school boards and local administrators know. And, most important, parents — who are on the front lines of the struggles their children have faced during the pandemic — have a mechanism at a local level to take part in that decision-making process.
It is time for the state and governor to stand down and allow local school boards and local officials, in conjunction with local health departments and parents, to make decisions for themselves about how their schools should be run, what events and activities — such as graduation — should take place and how to best take care of our children. The science and the data no longer justify Albany’s one-size-fits-all approach, or the damage it is doing to the developmental, emotional and physical health of our students.
To that end, I recently joined the other members of the Nassau Legislature’s Republican majority to write a letter to Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie calling on New York state to allow school districts the full discretion to decide when to safely restore extracurricular activities and other school events, including graduation ceremonies. The remarkably good job Nassau County districts have done keeping students, teachers and staff safe in school has earned them the right to decide which events may be held and how those events will be conducted. I’m hopeful that our state leaders will heed this call and return that discretion to our districts.
Steve Rhoads is a Republican Nassau County legislator representing the 19th District.