Last week, Summit Daily’s article titled “Summit School Board Rejects Remote Learning Option for 2022-23 School Year” caught my eye. I did not attend the school board meeting, and I’m sure there was more to the debate and the vote than what was quoted in the article. However, at least superficially, I got to thinking, “Great, let’s get the kids back in class” and “Wow, that seems like an unusually financially prudent decision on the part of the school board.” If I interpreted the calculations in the article correctly, Summit High School and Summit Middle School Edgenuity courses cost approximately $7,500 per student based on current school year enrollment.
I think child masking and distance learning, in general, has created a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for many children while providing little to no health benefits locally or nationally. While I don’t want to diminish the concerns about anxiety or bullying expressed by some parents and school board members, the stated argument for continuing online classes made me think of the scene in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when Rudolph, Hermey the Elf, and Yukon Cornelius arrive on Misfit Toys Island and ask King Moonracer if they can live on the island because they are also misfits. The king wisely tells them that this is not possible because “…A living creature cannot hide on an island.”
I remember being assigned a locker next to the tallest kid in the class my freshman year in middle school. He took great pleasure in slamming locker doors on unsuspecting victims and having the locker immediately adjacent to his made me a prime target. While I am not advocating violence to solve problems, reasoning with this individual was futile. One day, after he slammed my locker door on my hand, I slammed his locker door on him in a fit of rage. This naturally led to a brief melee in the hallway in which I got my ass kicked. I lost the fight, but he didn’t slam my locker door again.
The purpose of this column is not to overlook bullying, its causes, its consequences or the possible remedies. If there are issues with bullying in Summit County schools, there needs to be a serious discussion with affected students, parents, and teachers to resolve the issues. No matter what, there will always be bullies, and sometimes the only way to solve the problem is to fight back, not to stay home.
Upon reflection, my reaction to the article has evolved slightly. My first loyalty is to the parents. Parents know their children best and 99.9% of parents act in the best interests of their children. My next loyalty is to teachers. In the past, teachers could count on the support of parents and administrators. A call home was the ultimate hammer. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case today. I rely on elected officials to be good stewards of the public purse, and that sometimes requires tough decisions. I think it was probably done in this case. Distance learning is a significant cost for minimal participation.
So where are we? Summit schools are understaffed like everyone else. Funding that underpinned distance learning is winding down, at least for now. Some parents believe that home schooling or other alternatives are better options for their children. What is the best outcome for all stakeholders?
Offer parents who believe that home schooling or an alternative school setting is the best learning environment for their children the opportunity to receive a voucher equal to the per capita cost of Summit County School to teach their child . This is a viable alternative to Edgenuity that would reduce the need for additional staff which is the school system’s highest operational cost.
What if the school board worked with the city of Silverthorne to develop housing for teacher employees at the former Silverthorne Elementary site, and worked with the city of Frisco and Summit County commissioners to develop housing options for teachers at Summit Middle School and Summit High School properties? This would help recruit and retain teachers. I could be wrong, but it looks like there are potentially beneficial options for all aspects of this problem.
Bruce Butler’s “Common Sense Conversations” column is published biweekly on Tuesdays in Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member of Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.