SARASOTA — The Sarasota County School District continues to prepare to reopen classrooms on Aug. 31 and School Board candidate Tom Edwards says, “It’s just wrong.”
“Our numbers are way out of control,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, one child getting sick, one child dying, is too many.”
Besides the risk to students from resuming in-person classes, children may be “little super-spreaders,” he said, potentially transmitting COVID-19 to teachers, bus drivers and other employees, as well as their families.
“It puts us all at risk,” he said.
The district is being pressured by both the state and federal governments to have in-person classes five days a week, with funding in jeopardy if it doesn’t comply.
Edwards said he’d stand up to them, doubting that they’d penalize the No. 2 district in the state.
He would advise parents to opt for online classes, he said, to reduce risk, adding that it’s likely that online learning will be continue to a part of instruction in the future.
If the district had invested in a remote-learning plan early on, he said, it would be in a position to conduct all classes online to start the year.
Then, he said, schools could be used as remote learning centers for students whose parents need child care to be able to go to work.
The district needs to do more to eliminate the achievement gap, which has shown no real progress in years, Edwards said. The School Board needs to require more accountability and get regular reports from the superintendent on the matter, he said.
It also needs to be proactive regarding climate change and the impact it will have on schools, he said.
And it needs to address the changing demographics of the county, he said.
The achievement gap is hitting Hispanic students hardest, he said, adding that they’d benefit from dual-language classes.
The district also needs a more-diverse instructional staff and to review its curriculum for “hidden racism,” he said.
Additionally, it needs to ensure that salaries are appropriate in order to retain good teachers, reducing turnover.
“It’s hard enough to find teachers,” he said. “When you find good employees, you pay them well.”
He would bring a background in recruiting that would help in recruiting and retention, he said.
Something else he would bring to the board would be a fresh set of eyes and an open mind, he said.
Without a political agenda of his own, he’d be able to reduce the “drama” he said has characterized many board debates, and build consensus.
“This isn’t politics,” he said. “The stakes are much higher. I know how to attack issues, not people.”
It was contentiousness that pushed him to oppose incumbent Eric Robinson for the District 3 seat, he said.
“I couldn’t sit on the sidelines,” he said.
Having gotten a great public education, he said he knows the value of public schools and decided it was time to do his part to help the district get better.
“You don’t run a business for the status quo,” he said. “You run for continuous improvement.”