Students continue to pay the price of misplaced priorities and poor leadership at the state and federal level. 

Elected officials prioritized business interests over the educational needs of the next generation of leaders. Students, as a result, have bounced back and forth from the classroom to distance learning like a paddle ball. 

Local school superintendents and the governing boards of those districts made the best of what they had to work with, but that wasn’t much. Administrators looking for sensible guidelines were told by state officials  to get creative and provide safe learning spaces — federal officials threatened to withhold funds from districts that failed to comply. 

State officials then maximized the potential for community transmission of the novel coronavirus by focusing efforts on reopening high-risk businesses. Researchers have found the settings that contribute to the largest increases in new infections include bars, restaurants, gyms, hotels and religious organizations where there are large public gatherings. 

Studies show much less potential exists for the coronavirus to spread through classrooms and schools where safety protocols are implemented and followed. Children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, also learn best when they attend school in person, but that can be accomplished safely only “when a community has the spread of the virus under control.” 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force report published this past Sunday shows “the spread in Oklahoma is exponential and unyielding.” The report goes on to note the inadequacy of current mitigation efforts, which “must be increased to flatten the curve (and) sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies. 

There is little doubt these inadequate mitigation efforts contributed to decisions made by area school superintendents and school boards forced with the decision to make the switch to distance learning. Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said 31 students tested positive for the coronavirus in October, but it took only 11 days in November to surpass that total — 32 positive tests resulted with 433 quarantine orders due to direct contact or self-isolation as a result of additional positive tests.  

While it’s not the most popular thing to do — or even carried out efficiently — the federal government has demonstrated its capacity to supplement lost income of workers impacted by the pandemic. It is unable to do the same for students robbed of their educational experiences.

There is no doubt more must — and can — be done to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases. Prioritizing the educational needs of our children should be the focus of those efforts.

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