Our students and community deserve the best

We’re depending on our school district to get things right.

This week, The Beachcomber offers its annual back-to-school edition of “Island Child” — a special look at our island public schools as well as private schools and alternative learning programs on Vashon.

We love the tradition of putting out this special section — it’s our way to salute and honor all the dedicated island teachers, para-educators, specialists and office staff that keep our schools humming and our children safe and learning.

Our island parents and students, too, deserve a huge shout-out.

Back-to-school means something different for families now, as many have already navigated years of pandemic safety protocols, canceled in-person events and other circumstances wrought by COVID-19’s continual twists and turns.

We hope for a much healthier year this year for students, but that will take good leadership.

Washington Department of Health’s COVID safety guidance for schools has not changed much for the 2022-2023 school year. Schools must still monitor for cases and track and report outbreaks in schools — a process that must include a system to notify the community when an outbreak happens. Students who are sick with COVID-19 are also still required to stay home and isolate for five days.

What has changed is the way we all now think about the novel coronavirus.

“We are entering a new stage of coexisting with COVID-19 in our communities, knowing that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said this month.

Of course, “co-existing” must necessarily mean that school officials remain alert to the virus’ presence in schools, and work tirelessly to protect students, staff, and the wider community from its impacts.

Ideally, we would hope that our school officials, and parents as well, do more than the required minimum of following the state and county guidelines, as advised by the experts of Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps (see page 1).

Why go the extra mile? As VashonBePrepared points out, the island’s median age is 55, compared to 35 on the mainland.

And in the last 30 days, 90 people have died of COVID in King County. All but six of them were 50 or older.

Even though young people are less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID, young people get infected and do spread the disease to vulnerable people around them, including the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.

That is even more likely to happen if those who are part of our school district do not seriously consider the ramifications of students and staff re-entering busy public settings until they are certain they have tested negative for COVID infections.

We all now know the best tools to prevent the spread of the virus: ventilation, vaccination, masking, reasonable distance, and diligence in terms of slowing its spread.

We’re depending on our schools to get COVID right this year and take it seriously.

We’re also depending on our district to try to get its finances in order — something that won’t be easier in the wake of the resignation of Matt Sullivan, the district’s financial chief.

Sullivan, as we reported in last week’s Beachcomber, was a highly skilled leader in the district, with a track record of eight clean or perfect audits of the district’s finances in his eight-year tenure.

We’re very concerned that Superintendent Slade McSheehy has announced that he doesn’t intend to fill Sullivan’s job — a crucial leadership role that requires deep catalog knowledge of accounting, contracting, budgeting, legal, labor negotiations, audits, capital projects, state and federal reporting, and much more.

McSheehy has announced that he will assume Sullivan’s directorial roles in the areas of facilities, food services and transportation.

In this time of financial uncertainty for the district, does McSheehy have the financial acumen, much less the time to step into Sullivan’s job as well as fulfill his own considerable duties in the district?

We’ll be watching, and we’ll find out.

We can only hope our elected school board is watching too, and fulfilling the oversight role to which they have been entrusted by our community.