Spring break is coming up, and after many a staycation, it will really be back to school for more Columbia Public Schools students, as many middle and high schoolers will return to in-person instruction five days a week.

Coming off a hybrid program, back to “normal” will be an adjustment again, but it’s a welcome one for many kids and their parents. Others are still more cautious, as expressed by some Rock Bridge High School students, lamenting the anxiety of getting COVID-19 from a classroom setting.

Many parents have expressed increasing frustration on the timeline and decision-making process of CPS reopening classrooms. Many parents who hadn’t previously thought of themselves as activists were compelled to attend School Board meetings to stand up to elected officials on behalf of their families.

The sentiment was that the powers that be weren’t listening to their concerns, or at least were being too inflexible, as kids languished in the ever-extended Zoom learning environment.

Parents also apparently complained to their state representatives — as revealed in the public war of words that has recently escalated in the news between state Reps. Chuck Basye and Cheri Toalson Reisch with school officials.

I have known Chuck Basye for some time now. (By the way, his kids had my mom as their fifth grade teacher at Midway Elementary many moons ago.) He’s generally pretty easygoing and mild mannered, so I have never seen him as worked up as he has been about the headwinds to getting CPS to allow the option of in-person school again.

He has used strong words of late to bring to light his and others’ frustration with CPS inflexibility, parental complaints about School Board members and to accuse the local teachers union of dealing in bad faith.

His legislative colleague Cheri Toalson Reisch, who I have also known for about as long, on the other hand, is well known for being outspoken and not mincing words. It’s her natural personality. Still, giving CPS an F is a strong rebuke; though it seems she was referring specifically to their reopening efforts and essentially was grading on a curve relative to other schools in her district.

CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman, who is retiring this summer and due an upcoming tribute piece in this column, is renown for his diplomacy but let Reisch have it in the Missourian a few weeks ago. The district’s chief executive took her comments to the Nth degree, assuming that Reisch was also giving an F to students and teachers at large, as well as every collective resident — even her own constituents and voters.

In a limited way, isn’t that exactly correct? That is, the School Board seems to have continually deferred to the superintendent — the organization’s lead risk assessor — who cites the county Health Department and teachers union, which are obviously lockdown oriented, and many influential Columbia constituents who insist on doctrinaire lockdown rhetoric and who have been first to howl about the dangers of kids in classrooms. All this even as the science says kids are obviously at much lower risk than the elderly or chronically ill or about any other demographic.

So it is not a stretch to assume Reisch would give an F to anyone who has outright ignored or suppressed the heartfelt cries she has heard from parents for their kids’ extended exclusion from a more functioning learning environment.

We should not doubt that school officials care about kids and safety and are acting rationally — based on their own assumptions and priorities. It can also not be stated enough that school districts, perhaps more so than other bureaucracies, are prone to the inflexible over-prioritization of reducing organizational risk — even the remote possibility of being blamed by anybody for allowing someone’s child under their watch to be placed in any kind of harm’s way.

School districts in small towns and rural areas tended to be more cautiously optimistic about keeping their schools open, no doubt based upon a clearer consensus of their respective residents’ values.

It has been a political failure that some compromise was not allowed months ago to accommodate, however limited and reasonably safe, in-person options for the willing. Therefore, I do not envy anybody in the CPS administrative offices or the Capitol.

One universal truth, though: Heaven help any soul tempted to suggest canceling high school football season.

It’s OK.

The post-spring break reopen for schoolchildren in Columbia is good.

Likewise, the union advocating for teachers to be moved toward the front of the vaccination line was good.

It is also good kids can still stay home.

And as always, some kids will just wish spring break would never end.


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