Jan. 25, 2022 — (Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on this and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)
By Bob Sneddon, Florence resident
I must preface my comments by saying that the thoughts that follow are mine, and despite having the privilege of chairing the Board of Directors of Siuslaw School District 97J, this is not a statement of the board by the board. Further it is not an official position of the school district.
It is mine and mine alone.
The sharp increase in COVID-19 in our community and our schools over the past few weeks has been quite alarming to me. Is it possible that we all are experiencing COVID fatigue and letting our guards down? If so, that has manifested itself in excessive student and staff absences in our schools.
Since the beginning of this pandemic two years ago and to help combat the most recent surge, a consistent message has been transmitted to the entire staff of Siuslaw schools. That message has focused on efforts to minimize COVID contacts as the best way to maintain the school district’s mission of “motivating and preparing all students to reach their greatest potential.”
I hope most people would agree the best way to accomplish this is by shaking off that COVID fatigue and keeping students in the classroom as best we can while maintaining a strict adherence to the guidelines that include masking, good sanitation and keeping possible exposures to a minimum.
Initially that was done by going to remote classes nearly two years ago, then returning to having students in the buildings during the following school year. We were able fine tune the process of keeping kids and staff as safe as we possibly can.
Along the way, there have been peaks and valleys in infections and case counts that required our administration and staff to stay on their toes and work exceedingly hard to do best by our kids. It is the most recent peak that is concerning me right now.
In the primary and elementary school setting, students are naturally separated. They have their cohort of maybe two dozen students and their teacher and aide. Yes, they do mix before and after school, as well as during recess, but every effort is made to make sure they maintain social distancing and good sanitation.
In the middle school and high school, that natural separation is reduced. Kids may be in several different classes in a single day and come in closer contact with dozens and dozens of other students, as well as staff.
When you add athletics into the mix, the opportunity for rampant spread is nearly impossible to prevent.
That’s a major reason why local schools have a high percentage of students and staff out sick right now. Those numbers are on the rise as the Omicron variant has asserted itself. This past week alone, we saw the temporary suspension of varsity girls and boys basketball; middle school basketball; and activities between our students and those of other schools due to local cases of COVID-19, or due to cases in those other schools.
Unfortunately, there are some in the community who continue to downplay the pandemic and outright oppose efforts at keeping the spread at bay. I see instances of people refusing to get a shot or even acknowledge their vaccination status or adamantly refuse to wear a mask. They justify it by claiming a personal right — either God-given or granted under the constitution of the U.S.
There has also been a segment of the parenting population who insist on waiving the recommended waiting period for an exposure or infection and demanding their child or children be able to return to school while they may still be shedding the virus. This in turn has led to additional preventable spread that has caused postponement or outright cancellation of some extra-curricular activity.
What I see when they assert their personal rights is that they in turn wind up infringing on the rights of those who disagree. By refusing to wear a mask, they in turn put others around them in jeopardy.
I know that while I have certain rights, when it comes to putting others in peril it is my responsibility to not exercise those rights. I also understand that it is my obligation to listen to science and follow its advice on how to make sure we all can live in a safe world.
With warmest regards and great humility,
Bob Sneddon — vaxxed, masked and unapologetically American.