Recently, we learned Oklahoma officials are deferring to school districts for notifying parents and the community about local COVID-19 cases.
The state Department of Health leaves it up to individual districts to decide how much information to release publicly. Those who have potentially been exposed to a patient are contacted and notified by health officials.
Frankly, we lack disclosure requirements at the state level on this issue. Besides reporting positive cases to the health department, there are no mandatory state guidelines of what to report when and to whom.
Parents are trusting school leaders to do the right thing. Meanwhile, administrators are under immense pressure and acting in good faith.
Local control is great, but that assumes local leaders want to practice full disclosure and total transparency. And we realize that smaller districts may not have the staffing to provide daily updates.
School districts always list the safety of students, families and employees as a primary concern. If that’s truly the case, here’s a great opportunity back up that often repeated statement.
It’s the job of the independent press to push for full disclosure of COVID-19 numbers, measure them and report this public safety information frequently to the public. Consistent disclosure of numbers helps provide a public measuring stick to chart the pandemic.
As students return to classrooms, Oklahoma districts are learning on the fly. In Norman, the school district updates the public with community reports on cases released weekly.
Other districts are doing more with public disclosure.
“Many districts including Enid, Bartlesville, Tulsa-Union and others already are fully transparent with regard to positive cases or instances of quarantine,” Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent, recently told CNHI Oklahoma.
We agree with Hofmeister’s position that more information is always better. Government transparency leaves nothing to the imagination, and it prevents the rumor mill from filling in the blanks with exaggeration or misinformation.
Schools shouldn’t be secretive with a numbers game of trying to control information. Holding your breath won’t stop the spread of this insidious virus.