Dr. Gregory Wyman

Greg Wyman

The next casualty of civil discussion created by the COVID-19 pandemic centers around the reopening of schools. Unfortunately, like most issues in society today, this issue is not a 95-5 issue. By this I mean that 95% of the people are on one side of the issue and 5% on the other side. A 95-5 issue makes decisions extremely easy. For this issue, we get a 50-50 split, and given the state of our country, lose the chance for civilized or productive discussion.

As a result of this contentious and highly emotional environment, we now have parents at odds with parents, teachers at odds with parents, parents at odds with administration, and teachers at odds with administration and governing boards. Many could see this coming for the past several months. The sad part is that communities and school districts, the fabric of our communities, are being split apart.

Why has this happened? Very simply, it is because of the lack of a comprehensive or coherent plan at the national and state level for the reopening of schools. School district leaders have been asking for months for specific guidance, yet it has not been provided.

It is true that “guidelines” and “recommendations” have been provided, from state departments of education, governors, the CDC, and even at the federal level. The problem is that these “guidelines and recommendations” are voluntary, and do not address the granular level, particularly the specific concerns of what it would take to safely reopen multi-million dollar companies serving thousands of clients.

I put it in these terms, because specific recommendations and guidance has been mandated for businesses throughout the country. Since oftentimes schools are not seen as businesses, and most individuals do not understand the incredible complexity it takes to run a school district, it is easier to pass the buck when it comes to guidance.

The result is that the local school boards and superintendents are now forced to make fragmented and polarizing decisions on the reopening of schools. All of a sudden, politicians are advocating for local control, a concept that has been conspicuously missing in most conversations and debates during my career in public education, as mandate after mandate, mostly unfunded, are handed down from the state and federal level.

With 225 school districts and over 500 charter schools in this state, local governing boards and superintendents will now have to make a variety of difficult choices. The resulting furor will not help the situation, and at the end of the day it is students who end up losing the most.

It did not have to be this way, but unfortunately due to the lack of an effective plan at the state and federal level, it is. Educators have dedicated their lives to helping the next generation. What a shame that when the country was given the opportunity to help educators teach the younger generation what true leadership is, how to work collaboratively to solve complex problems with civil discourse, we instead created an environment that is tearing our communities apart. We can do better, we need to do better. The eyes of the next generation are watching and learning from us.

Dr. Gregory A. Wyman is superintendent for the J.O. Combs Unified School District. Dr. Wyman has been an Arizona educator for the past 34 years.

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