The Killeen school district administration and board of trustees did the right thing by postponing the May 2 bond election to November.
Now they need to cancel it altogether.
To his credit, Killeen Independent School District Superintendent John Craft is already thinking along those lines.
That’s because the Killeen area, to include the school district, has been virtually locked down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
And the economic effects could be devastating, depending on how long the shutdown is extended statewide by Gov. Greg Abbott and locally by County Judge David Blackburn.
Their latest directives have closed some businesses, restricted the operations of others and banned gatherings of more than 10 people, through the end of April.
Schools, which have been out locally since spring break began on March 9, have been ordered closed until May 6 — nearly two full months.
Teachers have returned to their respective schools, but classroom learning has been replaced with online offerings for students across the district.
The board voted last week to use the third nine-weeks grading period as the basis for students’ final grades. And the administration has yet to decide what to do about graduation ceremonies, which are scheduled for the first week of June.
Against this backdrop, Craft and the district’s board members knew that holding an election in May would have made little sense.
First, Killeen and Harker Heights had already moved their elections to November, as the governor authorized recently. Since KISD partners with the two cities to hold joint elections, going it alone in May would have meant the district would have shouldered the full cost of the election.
Secondly, with early voting scheduled to start April 20, that would have required voters to cast ballots before the current social-distancing directive expires. With the number of countywide cases of the coronavirus continuing to rise, having an election now could put both voters’ and election workers’ health at risk.
Third, because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus, holding a May election likely would have produced an unusually low turnout and would not have accurately reflected the will of the district’s voters.
But perhaps most significantly, with many district residents struggling financially because of virus-connected job furloughs, layoffs and increased childcare costs, asking them to vote to increase their taxes in order to build $265 million worth of new schools and stadiums would have been insensitive.
Given the fact that the virus’ spread has not yet peaked in Texas, the area’s economy is likely to be impacted for the rest of the year — and beyond.
Craft recognizes this reality, and he told the board last week that it may be best to hold off on the bond election for the foreseeable future, citing the need to “reprioritize” as a community.
That’s the critical point where we are now.
With the threat of the virus increasing across the region, where do we place our priorities and how can we best protect our local residents?
One thing that can be done now is to be proactive about protecting our students, teachers and staff. The district should just bite the bullet and close schools for the remainder of the school year. As much as Craft and the board would like to resume classroom instruction, it’s just not going to be feasible as long as the potential to spread the coronavirus exists in the area.
Returning the district’s 44,000 students to classroom settings on May 6 would make social distancing impossible and would be an irresponsible and dangerous decision. It would be a far better idea to reassess the risk to students, teachers and staff over the summer while developing backup plans for instruction in the fall.
The district should also make the decision now to call off commencement exercises. No doubt, the district wants to do everything possible to give graduates the time-honored experience of walking across the stage in front of family and friends. But it’s just not a good idea this year.
Eight weeks from now, the coronavirus threat is still likely to be substantial — and holding events that bring together upwards of 5,000 people is unwise. Even if the graduations were held without an audience present, the events would gather about 500 graduates from each high school — which would be an unacceptable risk.
Already last week, the KISD administration canceled all school proms, out of concerns for the students’ health and safety.
No doubt, these are incredibly hard decisions, but this time in our community’s history is unlike any we have faced in the past.
Our top priority is, and should continue to be, keeping each other safe. Everything else is secondary.
Years from now, current students may regret the fact that they couldn’t finish the school year in the classroom with their friends. They may be sad that they couldn’t attend their senior prom or graduate in front of their family and classmates.
But hopefully, these students will look back on this year as one in which the sacrifices they made paid off — and helped to make life better for the students who came after them.
Perhaps KISD’s administrators and board members will also look back and realize that the tough decisions they made were the right ones for the students, parents and district staff.
Certainly, our school officials would rather not take these sweeping actions. Doing so would open them up to criticism from those who believe they are overreacting to the current health crisis.
But there can be no overreacting to a pandemic that has claimed more than 8,000 American lives, including more than 100 in Texas, as of Saturday afternoon.
Close schools for the remainder of the semester. Cancel high school graduations. Call off the school bond election.
These are all difficult decisions — but they are the right ones to make on behalf of the district, its students and the community at-large.