Guest Columnist

Let's try local control, Gov. Reynolds

Some thoughts from a very concerned Iowan

A main hallway is seen empty at Cleveland Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, July 17, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The G
A main hallway is seen empty at Cleveland Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, July 17, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds, thank you for your letter to all Iowans (“Gov. Reynolds: We can’t let COVID-19 deter or divide us“). I thought I’d take a minute to respond, certainly not for all Iowans, but for one very concerned citizen.

The theme of your letter seems to be that we are all in this pandemic together. We are. But there are different levels of “together.” I think it’s a lot like the old story of the chicken and the pig asked to contribute to breakfast. The chicken drops off her contribution and leaves, and the pig sacrifices everything.

You drop a proclamation and educators and students face sacrificing everything to meet your demands. It’s not a media scare tactic; it’s real.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you are evil or even mean. I explain your decisions using two possible explanations. I believe you are either stuck in a political quagmire called “Trumpism,” and you haven’t found a way to escape, or you are auditioning for a second act in a second Trump term that may never come.

I hope neither of my explanations are correct, but they do explain a couple of your recent decisions. For one, your decision to be one of only a few governors not to issue a mask mandate and yet insist schools open, is troubling. While that decision must have earned you quite a few figurative hugs from the president, it created deep anxiety and outright fear in the education community.

You say in your letter that, “Iowans dug deep and did their part.” Some did. But once you said bars could open, and never mandated face coverings, you sent a mixed message to those poised to party. The virus exploded in Iowa again not in a second wave but a sequel to the first. June and July felt more like March and April.

The second decision that plays into my two possible explanations is the artificial percentages you decided to use forcing unsafe schools to remain open even if their county is flooded with virus. During your news conferences, you often referred to a matrix used to determine the spread of the virus.

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I’ll admit, I never understood the movie “The Matrix,” and I sure never understood what numbers you were using. When Dr. Pedati, your epidemiologist tried to make it clearer, she sounded a lot like that teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons.

Now, the magic percentages for schools to be allowed to begin remote learning seems to be a 15 percent positivity rate in the county and a 10 percent absentee rate over a 14-day period.

But wait.

That might only be if the positivity rate is not caused by a prison or a nursing home outbreak. Why not try local control instead?

I know you are convinced it’s better for kids to be in school. I agree. But I think it’s better if kids aren’t in a place that could kill them. We wouldn’t ask kids to return to a school building if part of the building is on fire, and we shouldn’t ask educators to be the “Canary in the coal mine for this.” It’s too risky.

So, in closing, let me offer just one more piece of unsolicited advice. Educators are very patient people. After all, they work with kids every day. But they are not huge risk takers who throw caution to the wind.

They are people who are resourceful, and devoted, but that devotion is being taxed mightily by the decisions you are making. Some are ready to walk away and call it a career, and still others have faith that you will find a foothold and emerge from the Trump shadow to reconsider your decisions, and base them on science and a good deal of that small town Iowa common sense you campaigned on. Thanks for listening.

Bruce Lear of Sioux City retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for 11 years, and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. He grew up in Shellsburg. BruceLear2419@gmail.com.

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