Parents, teachers and school administrators were surprised Thursday with Governor Cooper’s announcement that he is relaxing his mandate on North Carolina schools to allow daily in-person classes for elementary grades K-5 beginning Oct. 5, if local school boards deem it generally safe as the state and nation deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Carteret County parents and teachers this is good news but it comes with a major question- what are the county’s numbers of confirmed cases, based on age?
County agencies, particularly the Health Department, stressing Federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act), have been very stingy about information that will help the public make educated decisions. Now that the governor is citing data that will accommodate a return of in-class participation for elementary students, it is time for that information at the local level to be provided to the public and definitely to parents of elementary school children.
Restrictions for all middle and high school students allowing for either hybrid participation where students are separated into two groups, each allowed two days of in-person classroom participation followed by three days of remote learning, or, total virtual classroom participation via internet connection, still remain in force.
Cooper’s announcement is predicated on “data” provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that indicates low COVID-19 cases among the state’s younger population and success in reducing the number of active cases. “We’re able to open the option because most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers. The science of lower viral spread among younger children also backs up this decision,” Cooper told a News & Observer reporter.
Cooper said nothing about pressure from parents, members of the state’s Republican legislative caucus and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is opposing Cooper for the upcoming gubernatorial election, imploring him to lift his mandate on all school districts prohibiting full in-class participation at all grade levels. But he has done so for public elementary schools for the time being.
We think this is good news for the county’s elementary students but unfortunately the public and particularly parents do not have a full grasp of the conditions at the county’s 20 public school facilities and as a result should maintain concern.
Carteret County schools post a daily report noting how many individuals are diagnosed with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The problem is the description - “individual.” Does that mean a teacher, administrator, school staff or student? That delineation is important for parents if they are going to feel comfortable sending their children back to school.
If the numbers represent a majority of, or only adults, then the anecdotal numbers from the DHHS can be trusted. However, if these numbers also include children then parents need to know.
We appreciate the school system’s intent to protect confidentiality and to avoid panic. But there is a point of trust about information that does deserve public disclosure when it becomes an issue of the health and safety of others, particularly children.
Does the school administration trust the ability of their constituents, parents and students, to make wise decisions based on valid data? If not, then why should the public and in this case, elementary school parents, trust the source of the information when it is not fully disclosed?
The issue here is not identifying the individuals, although that is not a bad thing since it would allow parents and the community to provide assistance should it be necessary. But it does justify at the very least identifying the group and age impacted.
It is paradoxical that the very organization focused on education and facts, our schools, hesitates to provide the facts and data that the public needs in order to make educated decisions.
It is time for parents and the public to demand the facts, information and data from our publicly supported agencies in order to make “data driven” decisions about their children’s education and their community.