Editor’s Note: School board member Traci Holt read this statement during the Oct. 7 meeting of the Plumas Unified School District Governing Board as trustees debated if and when to return to in-classroom instruction. Of all that was said during the nearly four-hour meeting; her statement best synthesized the difficult decision to be made. I encourage you to read this statement in its entirety.
Thank you for joining us this evening. I want to thank Dr. Kepple and Andrew Woodruff for providing us with additional information and for addressing our questions. Our administration and local public health officials have worked tirelessly over the past 6 months to ensure the safety and public health needs of our students, parents, teachers, and staff. Thank you!
Our board has spent hundreds of hours over the past 6 months in meetings and researching how best to bring students back into the classroom. The mental and social emotional health of our students has been first and foremost on our minds. We are parents too who have experienced similar emotions like many of you and felt the challenges at home trying to work and educate our kids.
We did not know what to expect in March when schools across the country closed. Like most districts throughout the state, we were not delivering services as effectively as we needed to – but that was OK. We did the best we could during this once in a lifetime event – let us hope it is a once in a lifetime event. We did not anticipate that we were going to be shut down for 6 months. Like everybody else, the pandemic took us by surprise.
Our entire county feels the impact of our schools’ closing last March. As public servants, we take responsibility for the incredibly important issue of how students will be best served. Factors outside of our control dictated what the education setting would look like. State and local guidance and regulations governed the operation of schools. Even our leaders at the federal, state, and local level and highly respected scientists do not agree. We are in a situation for which there are no rules, no precedent to draw from.
We know more today than we knew a month ago and certainly more than we knew 6 months ago.
Students, parents, teachers, and staff have been very anxious about what school is going to look like if we return, what will happen if we have a student or staff member test positive. This is a question I think about every day.
I do not think anybody wants to repeat the delivery of education in the form we left it in June. Our teachers and staff did the absolute best with the tools available. We have improved the delivery of distance learning. What we are dealing with is constantly changing. Something that may have made sense for us on Monday does not make sense to us today because we learned something new yesterday.
As board members, we are not immune from criticism. Our passion lies with doing what is right for kids. We have been under a tremendous amount of pressure from both sides of COVID: Some parents encouraging us to stay closed while others were encouraging us to open.
The back and forth messages on Facebook and other social media platforms, was disappointing to me. While I totally understand the frustrations, it was sad to see the negativity. My email and text messages have been flooded with messages pertaining to the current situation over the past 6 months. Some of the messages were awful, the name-calling and lack of empathy for the no-win situation we were faced with. Some people I had never met despised me because I was forced to vote on an impossible choice, send children and staff back to school with limited resources to keep them safe or keep students home in a virtual learning environment knowing that not all families had equitable access and opportunities.
As your school board member, a working parent, and a human being, I am at a loss for how to respond because there is no good answer or solution that can fix what we are experiencing. But I do know this, if we continue to spread anger, threats, place blame and continue to send hateful comments, we only fuel the frenzy.
There is so much intensity surrounding COVID, not just here in Plumas County, but across our nation. We continue to be faced with fear, disappointment, frustration, and anxiety. Many of us prefer routine and do not like other people telling us what we can and cannot do. COVID-19 has stripped us of that, regardless of your opinion on this situation. Many of the decisions made over the past few months were in response to the data and guidance received from our local, state, and federal leaders. Many of the decisions were made for us.
Regardless of which days our kids are in school and for how long, things will look different when they enter the school building. Remember, parents who are concerned can opt out; they can choose online learning. What we are attempting to do is thread the needle and provide for an orderly reintroduction of students to our campuses.
We have protocols in place if we have a student at a school site that tests positive. We fully expect that we are going to have that. We expect we are going to be going backwards and forwards — maybe until we get a vaccine. We are expecting a very unusual and disruptive school year.
I believe we cannot let perfect stand in the way of good. There is no way to guarantee we will have a 100 percent COVID-free environment.
We have an impossible decision to make. And we still must make it. Whatever the outcome is this evening, please move forward with grace and compassion towards one another.
This is not a time for complaints or name calling, it is a time for coming together to problem solve. I get it, there are days where I cannot bring myself to remain positive for my high school senior. Telling her it will all be OK when I do not really know if it will be OK.
We are in this together, we need each other, because despite our differences, we are going through a shared experience of COVID 19. Be kind, be patient. Offer to help rather than harm. Be there for our schools, the way they are here for our children. To the educators, I applaud your spirit and passion through this difficult journey.
I know there are people who I have made angry with my decisions. I am sorry to have made you so angry. As a leader, I know it falls on me to ultimately make the final call, and sometimes, that decision is unpopular. What has made the reopening discussion so challenging, is that there is no right choice in this situation.In closing – To our students, the return to school will look different…But the resiliency of your spirit will get us through. Hang in there, we are in this together. Remember, if it does not challenge you, it will not change you.
School board member
Plumas Unified School District