Lynnette Grey Bull, the Democratic nominee for Wyoming’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, isn’t happy about the state’s decentralized approach to school reopening. So she wrote to Superintendent of Public Education Jillian Balow on Aug. 6 to decry what she sees as a piecemeal approach that leaves too much up to individual districts.
“It is not acceptable to merely push these concerns to the district or school level, requiring them to create a tailor-fit reopening plan with any of the tools at a tailor’s disposal,” Grey Bull wrote.
Two weeks later, she’s unsatisfied with a lack of response from the department, which says it never received her email.
“The only response I have received from the Superintendent’s office was a non-response: ‘we have no idea why it didn’t reach the askthesuperintendent inbox,’ ” Grey Bull wrote in an email to the Jackson Hole Daily.
Grey Bull’s eight-page letter to Balow lays out 15 questions related to the coronavirus response. Topics include the potential for teachers to contract the virus, how increased sanitation measures will be paid for and whether class sizes will be kept below a certain threshold.
Her concerns come from both the perspective of a potential congressional representative and of a parent of a college-age, high school and middle school child.
“As a mother, every aspect of our decision whether or not we reopen schools will affect me personally,” she wrote.
She calls the reopening part of a “polarized and partisan debate,” alleging decisions about the safety of schoolchildren are not being made with their best interests in mind. Citing rising COVID-19 cases in the state, she said schools are not ready to reopen and cannot guarantee they could control the virus.
A member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, Grey Bull has seen some of the worst impacts of the outbreak in her community. Native people represent a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Wyoming.
“It will impact my family and the health of my vulnerable elders, it will impact the people of my home, the Wind River Indian Reservation,” she wrote.
Grey Bull is keeping her kids at home this fall, starting their school year online, which also pushed her to write Balow.
But according to Wyoming Department of Education communications manager Linda Finnerty, Balow never received the email. Grey Bull’s campaign forwarded a copy of the communication, time stamped the evening of Aug. 6, to the Jackson Hole Daily, but Finnerty said she couldn’t find it anywhere in the superintendent’s email folders and that it had never arrived.
In a statement Aug. 17, Balow said she received the email after the campaign sent it a second time.
“I am in receipt of Lynette’s letter,” Balow wrote. “I hope that next time she will call to discuss her concerns instead. I appreciate the list of concerns and will continue to work hard to address them with our state and local partners.”
Beyond the concerns she stated in her letter, Grey Bull took issue with Balow’s insinuation that such business should be conducted over the phone, in part because written plans, emails and other documents are part of the public record in ways a phone call is not.
“The suggestion that any major party nominee for U.S. Congress, or indeed any citizen, should not express their concerns in writing but by phone is unbelievable,” she wrote to the Daily.
Sending her thoughts in a letter, she said, was her way of being able to share them with her constituents and provide transparency.
“With transparency comes accountability and responsibility,” she wrote. “Superintendent Balow should welcome that.”