[This is an opinion piece from Larry Felton Johnson, Editor and Publisher of the Cobb County Courier]
The title of this “From the Editor” begins with a quote from a character in Game of Thrones, Benjin Stark.
Spoken to Tyrion Lannister, the entire quote was “My brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.”
On August 2 the Georgia Department of Public Health issued “The Fifteenth Amended Administrative Order For Public Health, ostensibly outlining updated procedures on isolation and quarantine to protect the public.
The procedures outlined seem pretty clear and sensible, but when it got to the section on school policies, which should be intended to protect Georgia’s public school students during the middle of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a caveat was introduced.
“Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantine remains the safest way to protect teachers and students from the spread of COVID-19. However, recognizing the importance of in-person learning, schools may elect to adhere to different quarantine requirements as developed by the local school district to facilitate in-person learning. Individuals subject to quarantine may only adhere to such different quarantine requirements as long as the point of exposure occurred in the school setting and as long as they remain asymptomatic.”
Note the word “however,” a synonym for “but” after the line: “Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantine remains the safest way to protect teachers and students from the spread of COVID-19.”
So disregard any notion that best practices outlined by the CDC are going to have any influence on what Georgia requires of school districts. The GDPH covered that with the use of the word, “However.”
Let me make one thing crystal clear. I do not envy the health professionals who are mandated to develop health policies during this increasingly grim pandemic.
They have to navigate mobs of demagogic politicians, antivaxxers and anti-maskers, angry parents on all sides of the issue, and every Monday-morning quarterback with an internet connection.
I don’t even envy the school districts, who will be stuck with the backlash when the hungry delta variant of COVID-19 inevitably tears through the school systems, affecting students, teachers, staff and all their families.
But it’s clear who should be in charge of setting policy, and setting it based on the best recommendations. It should be the health agencies (The Georgia Department of Public Health, Cobb & Douglas Public Health, etc) not the politically influenced and often dysfunctional school districts.
I asked the Cobb County School District why they had not opted to follow CDC guidelines, which the Georgia Department of Public Health admitted were “the safest way to protect teachers and students from the spread of COVID-19.”
Here is the answer I got from a district spokesperson:
“As stated when released, the District’s updated Public Health Protocols are intended to balance the importance of in-person learning and of working with Cobb & Douglas Public Health.”
Cobb & Douglas Public Health, for their part, wrote in a statement posted to the Cobb County website, “Each school system has their own unique challenges to meet the needs of students and faculty and we respect their authority to make the final decisions.”
The county itself wisely distanced itself from the policies by writing as an epilogue to the CDPH statement, “The Cobb County School District is a separate entity from the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and is governed by the Cobb County School Board. Cobb and Douglas Public Health is a local entity of the Georgia Department of Public Health.”
I’m going to close this by repeating my earlier statement.
It’s clear who should be in charge of setting policy, and setting it based on the best recommendations. It should be the health agencies (The Georgia Department of Public Health, Cobb & Douglas Public Health, etc) not the politically influenced and often dysfunctional school districts.
Despite the massive sigh of relief the public has over the removal of the restrictions, and the widespread availability of vaccines, the pandemic is far from over, and in fact it’s getting worse.
And we’re using our students, school staff, and teachers, as canaries in the coal mine.