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America has never been perfect. We have struggled at times in our history to provide all our citizens with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Despite our imperfections, there was always one constant, one area where there was consensus, and that was the overriding concern to protect our children. Sadly, throughout history children have been the innocent victims of political warfare and the incompetence of national leadership. But here in America, we like to think we are different, we do whatever is necessary to protect our children regardless of political differences, that is until now.
Here in Pennsylvania and across our nation, children and their safe return to school has fallen victim to dangerous and divisive political conflict. We have somehow lost our way and the future safety of our school children is in possible jeopardy as they return to school next month. As caretakers of our most sacred national priority, our children, we appear to be failing.
At a time when clear and thoughtful guidance is necessary to ensure the health of our children, we are without clear leadership. On the national level, our President is pressing a fight with national health experts to open our school without regard to the resurgent threat of the coronavirus. On the state level, our governor and the state legislature is also crippled by a similar political confrontation over issues as simple as do we wear a mask or not. As the result of our state government’s inability to put petty political differences aside for the safety of our school children, the bulk of the responsibility to safely open our schools was instead passed to individual school districts. School districts are in the education business, not the health care business, and they are ill prepared to make the critical medical decisions they are being forced to make in opening our schools.
As far as county government, don’t look for help there either. Here in Lebanon County, in our ultimate wisdom, we do not even have a county Health Department as some other counties in Pennsylvania do (editor’s note: only ten of 67 Pa. counties have their own health departments). Instead we depend on the Pennsylvania Department of Health office located in Downtown Lebanon. The DOH office in Lebanon is comprised of two employees, a clerk to answer the phone and one nurse. According to our local DOH office we may soon be without that nurse due to her promotion.
So where does that leave parents in determining if it is safe to send their child back to school? Unfortunately, for the most part parents are left to determine on their own the best and safest course of action, trying to bypass the political chaos that presently fogs this important issue.
As we are seeing cases of the virus again rise here in Pennsylvania, it appears we will be diving headlong into opening our schools next month. It’s one thing for an adult to choose to risk their health but it’s entirety different to send our children back to school without a clear understanding of the real health threat. a threat not only to our school children, but also their family members at home.
Robert Griffiths is a former educator and a current educational consultant and Cornwall-Lebanon School District board member. He lives in South Lebanon.
Read previous columns from Robert Griffiths on returning to school
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