This article is part of a series by Springfield Daily Citizen’s education reporter, Cory Matteson, comparing the school board candidates’ responses to topical questions.
Q: If elected, your first full school year as a board member will begin next fall. What measures need to be in place for staff and students to return to school safely, and where will you look for guidance on any future decisions the board will have to make regarding COVID-19 mitigation?
Kelly Byrne: At this time, we need no further measures. Our students and teachers are safe. Our students need to be seated in the classroom to succeed academically, emotionally, and physically. Masking should remain optional. We should provide proper N-95 masks for the district’s teachers and other staff that wish to use them, but it should be at their discretion. I can’t project where we will be at a future date, but I will assess data and make decisions based on what is in the best interest of our students’ overall health and academic success.
Chad Courtney: As I am writing the answer to this question in mid-February, it occurs to me that the answer to this question is really an unknown. The amount of fluctuations with regard to instructions and protocols to deal with this pandemic and its mitigation present a constant challenge. Mask mandates and other protocols are being removed at present. I will look to the CDC and medical professionals for guidance on how to best mitigate COVID-19 next fall. My reasoning is that in-person learning is paramount. Virtual learning has served its purpose and allowed for our schools to return, but it has come with a cost of a decrease in the amount of learning our children are able to achieve.
Steve Makoski: Decisions regarding COVID-19 mitigation are an ever-fluid situation. Board members will need to consider any number of sources to aid in their deliberation for the safety of students, staff and visitors. What we’ve learned or should have learned from the onset of this pandemic, is that no one really had answers on how to combat or protect against this virus. Everyone has their resources and opinions over how to address pandemic fallout and finding a common denominator that would provide for the best outcome is a major challenge. As a board member, I will be guided by science from reputable sources, and my deliberations would be all-inclusive involving parents, students, staff, and stakeholders. With that said, if two reasonable people view the same data and come to a different conclusion, then my deliberation weighs heavily in favor of the parent.
Charles Taylor: We are all ready to return to something approaching normalcy in a post-pandemic world. That said, the pandemic has taught us that we must be mindful of the need to consult with and, as appropriate, to heed the counsel of experts in the medical and public health communities. We have made significant strides in sanitation, ventilation and filtration, and we can build on that. I am hopeful that we will not face another pandemic, but if we do, I will stand by the decision to collaborate with experts to develop mitigation strategies that align with science and serve the best interests of our students, faculty, staff and community.
Brandi VanAntwerp: My goal is to make decisions that help our kids stay in the classroom. The last two years have shown us that virtual learning is not a replacement for the classroom setting and it is vital that we do everything within our power to keep our students in the classroom. As I am making these decisions, I will seek out and consider information from experts in the medical field, such as local hospitals and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.