School boards are at heart of reopening debate


ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Like school boards across America, the Rock Hill Schools Board in South Carolina faces what its chairwoman calls an impossible decision.

After dozens of hours of discussion across several meeting this summer, they decided to split students into two groups with each spending two days in the classroom.

Board chairwoman Helena Miller called it the hardest decision of her life with tears, sleepless nights and the safety of the 17,000 students in her mind.

“This is unchallenging or very challenging times, for all of us,” she said speaking to the Associated Press on Monday.

“We have been working diligently over the past four months or so on what it’s going to look like when schools open. As a board, we’ve had many, many sleepless nights. There are no good solutions. There are not even close to good solutions,” she adds.

School boards represent democracy at its lowest level.

And they face a simple question: Do we return to school? School boards nationwide have learned there are no right or easy answers.

Rock Hill School Board of Trustees in suburban South Carolina met Monday to discuss masks and other matters.

This Board of Trustees is like thousands of school boards nationwide, where members are tackling a simple but hefty question – do we return to school amid a pandemic? – with no right or even good answers, in the face of inconsistent testing and a near-constant increase in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Behind that question is pressure. Pressure from teachers and bus drivers and janitors, scared to return to work but in need of a paycheck.

Pressure from parents and guardians, who need to return to their own jobs but fear for their children’s safety.

Pressure from a president who declares on Twitter “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” but whose administration provides little guidance for doing so.

Helena made the hardest decision of her life: a vote to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, splitting students into two groups that would each spend two days a week in classrooms, with virtual learning the other school days.

Rock Hill’s strategy was very democratic.

The board officially listened to eight committees, some made up of dozens of parents and business or community leaders.

Each member spent dozens of hours in emails and informal discussions with people in and around their city of about 75,000 people.

Most school districts in South Carolina will not open their doors to students all five days a week when they start the new academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the governor demanded all schools offer a five-day per week in-person option.

The state Education Department approved the last of the reopening plans for all 81 districts in the state Monday.

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