Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was rightly criticized for insensitive comments he made about fathers willing to risk dying to send their children back to school amid the pandemic.
However, such comments from him, as well as similar comments from Gov. Mike Parson and President Donald Trump, show a disturbing underlying message from Republicans: That schools must reopen, regardless of the status of our deepening pandemic.
The Associated Press reported that in a Monday interview, Ashcroft told Christian radio station KLFC in Branson, "At some point, we need to just put our heads down and say we're gonna get through it, and we definitely need to send our kids back to school."
He added that he didn't "know a father alive that wouldn't risk getting COVID, even risk dying, to make sure that his children had the greatest foundation for success for their life they could have."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Ashcroft's Democratic opponent in the November election, Yinka Faleti, of St. Louis, called Ashcroft's statements "callous, insensitive and irresponsible" and suggested he was willing to risk the lives of parents, children, teachers and staff to send children back to school.
Ashcroft defended his comments, telling the newspaper he did not say fathers should risk death to send their children back to school.
"I said I would risk that," Ashcroft said. "And I didn't know a father that wouldn't. But I didn't tell anybody else what to do. I just said we need to get schools going."
Parson has let school districts decide how to proceed, but he, too, has pushed for them to reopen.
We understand why. Studies have shown distance learning this spring left much to be desired, and wasn't a success for many students.
However, we're faced with choosing the lesser of two evils. About the time Gov. Mike Parson issued a stay-at-home order in Missouri, the state was seeing an average of about 200 new cases a day. As of this writing, 1,241 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours.
Most of the large school districts in the state have delayed opening or limited in-person attendance to two days a week.
At what point do the health risks of in-person schooling outweigh the benefits? We haven't heard much in the way of concrete answers from our leaders.