Governor Justice has announced another significant change to the color-coded metric the state is using to determine whether public schools can have in-person instruction, what safety protocols they must follow and whether they can have extra-curricular activities.
Justice, along with his team of health officials and state School Superintendent Clayton Burch, Tuesday explained the new “gold” category that is being added to the current metric of green, yellow, orange and red.
The gold designation fits between yellow and orange, and officials hope it will give some counties an opportunity to open and have athletic events while still staying safe.
The metric itself, along with any changes, create a certain amount of confusion and consternation. No plan is perfect and any shift, while satisfying some, will likely upset others.
The essential question, and the one Justice must constantly balance, is whether the changes are based on the best available data or pressure from a particularly vocal group? That is not always clear.
Justice has been getting an earful from parents, coaches and student athletes from red and orange counties who want to return to school and play their games. They argue, with some merit, that their schools have followed all the safety protocols and, if there are no virus outbreaks, they should be able to play.
Justice, who is a coach himself, is likely sympathetic to their point. But there is a counter argument; is the metric being manipulated with the new gold category just to try to find a way to play high school football games?
The Governor should expect to hear criticism now from those who believe he is putting extra-curricular activities ahead of education and safety.
Democrat Ben Salango, who is challenging Justice in the Governor’s race, charges that Justice has poorly planned the state’s response to the virus by taking a top-down approach. Salango said for example decisions about school should be made at the county level.
But that approach would also have shortcomings. Local officials are not immune to political pressures that could result in decisions that are not in the best interest of public safety. Also, 55 different plans for school and extra-curriculars would generate a confusing patchwork.
We are tempted to say, and some do, “put a plan in place and stick with it.” That would be simpler, but it also would not leave room for tweaking to make it better. Either way, probably half of the people of the state will be upset.
This is, after all, a pandemic with a new virus, and absolute right answers are hard to come by. In the absence of the perfect, what is needed is the kind of leadership that most people trust and will follow, even if they do not always agree with the decision.