One of the main justifications typically cited by Gov. Mike Parson and other Republican politicians for revoking municipal governments’ powers to, say, control guns or regulate large pig farms is that a patchwork of local laws is simply too difficult for Missourians to navigate. A single state directive eliminates ambiguity and brings clarity, they assert.
School districts across the state were crying out for uniform guidance as they grappled with local limitations on gatherings while fearful of losing federal and state funding if they failed to stay open and maintain the minimum student attendance levels required by law during the coronavirus crisis. But Parson inexplicably argued that guidance at the state level was too burdensome. Embracing patchwork leadership, he punted responsibility to the schools to make the big decisions on whether to stay open or close.
Late Thursday, he tweeted an announcement that all public schools had closed. It wasn’t the governor finally making the kind of command decision leaders are expected to make. He was simply making a casual observation. On Saturday, three hours after an early version of this editorial appeared online, Parson finally announced that he was ordering schools to remain closed until at least April 6.
His hesitant, hand-wringing approach came in sharp contrast to the take-charge decisiveness of governors in other states such as Ohio, California and New York.
Parson’s lack of clarity contributed to decisions by some schools and other facilities to stay open far beyond a reasonable safety limit. The National Governors Association posted an ongoing list of all the actions states are taking to fight this pandemic. Until Saturday, Missouri had been among a tiny number of states that had issued no orders to close bars and restaurants, limit gatherings or close schools.
Missouri school systems “are very diverse. All of them are drastically different,” Parson told reporters Wednesday. “It’s much different — whether it be here in the Columbia school systems or whether you’re in Hayti in the Bootheel — a lot of schools do not have day care capabilities. They have no place for kids to go.
“We felt like the local levels, elected officials there, would know best how to do their schools,” he explained. Apparently, he gave that position a much-needed rethink, a full 10 days after Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine became the first governor to announce the statewide closure of K-12 schools.
Parson did, however, seem to understand the importance of taking charge to keep grown-ups from gathering in close proximity. He previously had ordered all municipal elections statewide to be postponed from April 7 to June 2.
Teachers, students and parents remain in a state of suspended animation, not quite sure if classes will resume next month or next August.
If Parson thought voters need a clear command decision to stay away from the polls, what took him so long to offer the same clarity for children, parents and teachers?
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