Everything Here Is Exactly As It Seems

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

I just reviewed the newest Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) CYA buck- passing disguised as K-12 school reopening guidelines. Interesting.

It consists of a page of “indicators” followed by two pages of “considerations” and then seven pages of multivariable decision matrices called “steps” which together can help produce a decision. Or not. But it is carefully tailored so that whatever decision is reached, it cannot be blamed on the VDOE.

What could go wrong? And what would we do without a Department of Education?

An example of a “consideration”: School impact.

Schools open for in-person instruction should evaluate the level of impact that COVID-19 transmission has had within their specific school. Some considerations include:

  • the number of outbreaks experienced and their proximity in time to each other;
  • the size of any outbreak(s) (number of cases/close contacts identified);
  • the level of spread within the school (e.g., whether cases are confined to a particular classroom or grade level);
  • the level of student and/or staff absenteeism due to illness, and the staff/faculty capacity.

These criteria and impact levels may change during the school year as we better understand how COVID-19 impacts schools.

Regardless of what the indicators determine, the more students or staff who interact and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread. While risk of introduction and transmission in a school may be lower when community transmission is lower, this risk is dependent upon the implementation of school and community mitigation strategies. Adherence to mitigation strategies in schools and the broader community will reduce the risk of introduction and subsequent spread of SARS-CoV-2 in schools. Notably, even when a school carefully plans and prepares, cases of COVID-19 may still occur. Having detailed plans in place for the occurrence of cases in schools can help quickly mitigate the impact and may allow the school to remain open for in-person learning, if deemed appropriate in collaboration with the local health department.

Thanks for stepping up, Superintendent Lane. Consider your backside officially covered. You have warned the school boards not to screw up. George Patton must be envious from the grave.

This pabulum written by your lawyers supplies enough rope with which to hang any school board. “We told them to be careful.” These government-designed Rubik’s Cubes that offer no actual solution can be used as plaintiff exhibits in tort actions when, not if, some plaintiff finds fault with the results of school board decisions.

Why? Because, equally predictably, there is still no Virginia law providing liability protection for school boards, school principals and school nurses in COVID-related decisions.

For the same reasons there is no federal law offering those protections, even though Senate Republicans held out for them until it was clear that was not going to happen: unyielding Democratic opposition.

Welcome to Virginia, the proliferation of lawyers in our coin-operated General Assembly and the unlimited and massive campaign contributions from law firms.

Everything here is exactly as it seems.

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7 responses to “Everything Here Is Exactly As It Seems”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Actually, it sounds a LOT like the CDC guidelines for schools.. no?

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      What, exactly, is that chart supposed to mean in practical terms?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        If you read that chart for any given school, it puts all of it on the school to decide – it’s their decision – the same thing the state is doing.

        There is good and bad to that – but the good is that it truly is up to the school to decide – as opposed to a top-down edict from the Gov or VDOE.

        No matter what they do, you guys are going to take the opposite so you can criticize. No?

        1. sherlockj Avatar

          Of course it is up to the school boards and that is a good thing.

          That changes the subject and doesn’t answer my question which is a direct one.

          What, exactly is that chart supposed to mean?

          Read down the “Moderate risk of transmission in schools” column. What do those particular numbers of cases and positive tests have to do with “implemented 3-4 strategies correctly and consistently”?

          Just asking. Don’t try to answer. Neither of us should have to guess.

          And look at the statement at the bottom. “to the extent possible, practical and feasible”. Note the use of the word “and”. Which is it, possible, practical or feasible?

          I am just pointing out, Larry, that this is a classic bureaucratic product. It must have been cobbled together by a committee. And then edited by three layers of management to make sure everything was perfectly obfuscated and that VDOE was thus perfectly protected.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            We agree… I just think all of them are doing the same game.

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