Opinion: Remember when school safety mattered?

Can you remember when our government officials cared about the safety of our schools? Two bills working through our Legislature, likely to pass on party lines, seem to me at odds with one another. House Bill 122, sponsored by Iona’s Chad Christensen, would allow school employees with an enhanced concealed weapons license to carry a gun on school grounds without the local school board’s permission, with the stated idea of protecting students, while HB 293 would pay parents who pull kids from school because school is not in-person, full-time, which would punish schools for protecting students.

I remember a particular secretary of education so concerned that bears were going to come into schools and eat the children she wanted to make sure that teachers were armed. I don’t know, off of the top of my head, how many people died in random bear attacks in Idaho last year and, of course, I am thankful that we were not faced with a massive school shooting. However, I must say that it is interesting that our gusto for protecting our schools seems to wax and wane when it comes to the very real threat in our midst. A threat that has taken the lives of over 1,900 of our friends and neighbors.

I have heard people say multiple times, “I would rather be 6 feet away instead of 6 feet underground.” If you don’t know people who have lost their lives to COVID-19, you are lucky or perhaps living under a rock. I know three. Those three people do not mean anything to you, but they meant something to me. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to ignore the danger. When you don’t feel the loss, it is hard to justify a sacrifice.

Our schools have been faced with an impossible task. They must keep the students and staff safe while meeting their obligation to educate. Years of underfunding have led to overcrowded schools and too few teachers. There is no way to socially distance in the majority of our classrooms. The only reasonable solution is to decrease the number of students in the school at any given time, which was the goal of most hybrid models.

HB 293 would punish school districts that put student safety first by forcing them to pay parents if they elect hybrid or online learning. Tell me how that makes sense? Under this bill, no matter how dangerous the circumstances at school, school boards would no longer have the ability to cancel school or offer hybrid learning for more than one day per week. Do we want our school boards making decisions based on what is best for the health and safety of students and staff, or do we want our representatives who appear barred from using common sense making those decisions?

Our legislators need to stop their focus on taking away our freedom to choose the best way to protect our students here locally. Our school boards must remain empowered to make decisions about our schools based on the needs of our community.

David Roth is vice chair of Legislative District 33 of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.