ZACHARY: Voting districts should reflect diversity; gerrymandering wrong for democracy

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

It is time for Richard Woods, Kathleen Toomey and Brain Kemp to be the leaders the people of Georgia deserve. 

It is time for the three of them to put Georgia children first. 

Woods, the state’s schools superintendent, needs to put students, teachers and school staff ahead of politics. 

Toomey, commissioner of the state’s department of public health, needs to put the public’s health ahead of politics. 

Kemp, governor of our state, needs to put people ahead of politics. 

At the very least, all school districts in the state of Georgia should fully comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines for schools. 

Across the state of Georgia, school systems are in disarray and local school administrators and boards of education don’t know what to do. 

Local leaders, frankly, don’t have the expertise to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and that is understandable. 

Woods, Toomey and Kemp do have the knowledge and experience to understand exactly what needs to be done but they have allowed politics to get in the way and all their urging and pleading with the people of Georgia to “do the right thing” is falling on deaf, or untrained, ears. 

All Woods, Toomey and Kemp would have to do is send a missive to the state’s school districts and require them to strictly follow the CDC’s clear guidelines. If the three of them would send that letter, schools would comply. It is that simple. 

Here are the guidelines: 

— Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.

— Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.

— Due to the circulating and highly contagious delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

— In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.

— Screening testing, ventilation, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.

— Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their health care provider for testing and care.

— Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning.

— Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).

Just doing these things, complying with the guidelines, would go a long way toward keeping students, teachers and staff safe.  The only thing standing in the way is a lack of leadership — Woods, Toomey and Kemp are the leaders who are lacking. 

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI’s director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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