Driving Blindfolded and Crossing Fingers: Why Reopening Schools in the Midst of a Pandemic Is Just Plain Wrong.
There is no responsible or moral way to open schools! Teachers are being treated as puppets and pawns in a political game that could end in loss of life. The policy makers in public school system at the state and federal level in the midst of a pandemic, are treating students, teachers and communities like guinea pigs. Don't be deceived. Those in power simply cross their fingers and hope for the best. In my moral compass, even one life lost is too many. Not on my watch. Do educators want to be agents working for a system that will cause harm to others, no matter how carefully safety measures are followed? Unlike many others, I do answer to a higher power for my actions.
Children look to adults to keep them safe. We are in this quandary of reopening schools solely because parents need to work. The elephant in the room: parents need childcare for their children and they need a system to feed their children. Period. This is NOT about education or children. This is about what to do with kids during the day while parents work. This is an effort to spearhead a working economy and perhaps cash in on some back-to-school shopping to also bolster the economy. For what? A week or two before people become sick and die?
Today, there are very few two parent homes where one could easily home school while the other worked. In the 1940's or 1950’s this would likely be a non-issue. One parent could adjust and stay home to help the children thrive and learn remotely, while the other continued to work. However times have changed and we are now seeing the dire consequences of single parent homes. It is now a matter of “children or work.” This divide is the true separation of those who can and will teach their children from those who can’t or won’t. Many children spent copious amounts of time with grandparents while parents work. This is done out of necessity. Childcare can be exorbitantly expensive. Do we want to send students to school and risk them bringing the virus home to elderly grandparents who may serve as primary caregivers?
We are risking lives now for those who can’t or won’t. This is the great divide in society that is now even more apparent than ever. Teachers are now being asked to risk their lives and the lives of those around them simply to provide a place to put kids that come from homes that can't or won't provide for their children's needs. Do we want to be the agents to expedite the spread of this virus?
Since most no longer hold the Ten Commandments and Bible as a moral reference anymore, this virus continues to spread. Many people are self-serving and decide to become their own gods. The spread of this disease is often a result of how much one might "love thy neighbor" and how much one believes "thou shalt not kill."
Do we really want risk illness or death among children, staff, families and communities? How many lives need to be lost before one loses sleep at night? Deep down, we know what will happen: People will get sick. Vulnerable people will die. Even those who were otherwise healthy have succumbed to this insidious virus as it wreaks havoc on the human body. There are no longitudinal studies on what this virus may do to those infected well into the future.
The capricious attitude by the majority results in the loss of life. Those who refuse to do the right thing and abide by safety precautions believe that since most young and healthy people will be asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms, we should not care. We shouldn’t worry. Who cares? Those with a conscience care. The ignorant, proud or entitled members of society go about their day as though no virus is present. Meanwhile, others try their best to be careful. The great divide is apparent. To some, the very idea that wearing a mask infringes on one's rights and freedoms is ludicrous! This attitude feeds into egocentric and immature entitlement. This attitude does not help the greater good with each of us being responsible and doing our own part. Healthy, young people have and will likely continue to get sick from Covid19. There are findings that even in mild cases, there are residual effects of this virus are evident: brain damage, organ damage, fatigue, cough, heart damage, etc. We don’t know the extent of what this virus will do to the human body long-term.
New information on this virus becomes available on a daily basis - forcing us to pause and rethink our game. We are learning it is airborne and can linger up to 3 hours and spread the length of a room. So, why enclose an entire school with children for hours on end each day? We know when NYC schools were open back and April and March, staff died. We know from reports around the world some students and staff have died when schools were reopened. Do the research and see for yourself!
Referring to enclosed spaces, another recent study cited by Dyani Lewis from Nature.com notes, “Meanwhile, a tour-bus passenger in Hunan province in China infected 8 of the 49 people on the bus. One of those sat 4.5 metres away from the infected person and entered and exited the bus through a different door. “That excludes the possibility of contacting each other or [being] in very close contact,” says Yang Yang, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who is co-authoring a report on the case. “I think there is enough evidence for us to be very concerned in indoor environments, especially in confined spaces,” he says. Again, close spaces yield viral spread.
My litany of questions and concerns for policy makers forcing the opening of public schools nationwide:
What plans do we have for air filtration and negative pressure for our schools? How much will that cost schools? Who will foot the bill for safe buildings and PPE for staff and students? Will this surge for necessary equipment fall on the shoulders of taxpayers? Reopening America's schools is cost and labor intensive. Even if proper safety protocols are put in place, meticulously maintaining safety each day will be tedious and laborious for all involved.
Who will be held liable?
We know that children, staff and even community members will likely get sick and even die as a direct result of reopening schools. This can discovered through contact tracing. Again, who will take responsibility for lives lost?
We know from cases in California, Vermont and other states that one party can cause multiple outbreaks. Contact tracing leads it right back to specific parties held. Large gatherings are deemed unsafe. We know gatherings can ignite new epicenters of rampant infections. Knowing this, bars have closed because close quarters and carousing are recipes for furthering the spread of Covid19. Hmm...for a humorous moment, let's imagine young students as a bunch of little drunks! Their development and behaviors are very much aligned with how inebriated adults act. Developmentally young children may still be a bit uncoordinated, staggering around, bumping into each other, hugging each other, spitting, yelling, singing, or starting fights! There you have it! If bars are not safe, then neither are schools! The behaviors are similar and conducive to viral spread. We all know young children will NEVER be able to stay 6 feet apart. They WILL play with their masks and they WILL pick their noses - constantly
Classrooms are NOT designed for these reopening mandates. Classrooms were designed for efficiency and collaborative learning - not to be used as sterile hospital rooms. Some might only be able to space children 3 feet apart. Doing our very best to space large groups of students may still not be enough. Classrooms were designed for close proximity and collaborative learning. Again, no one of sound mind really thinks children will remain 6 feet apart from each other or staff each day, all day, every day. To enforce it on an ongoing basis would be cruel. People want to connect and touch. It's human nature. Children are the most uninhibited to encroach on personal space, let alone 6 ft. parameters. Enforcing distancing and safety measures could stress students. This new unnatural environment of schools might just be more harmful than doing remote learning at home, on your bed, with your family and... your cat. No one had Covid 19 in mind when creating schools.
Consider student needs:
What about students on IEP’s and those with autism or with sensory issues? Will they be required to wear a mask all day? Today many students have experienced trauma or have behavioral challenges to overcome that may place them and others more at risk. Is it fair to make students sit for hours, in rows, 6 feet apart, masked, not able to touch or share items in the learning process? Planned bathroom breaks, limited recess and lack of physical activity throughout the day may add more stress during the day.
Forcing parents to send their kids to school when there is so much uncertainty:
What about parents who do not want to risk their child’s life and decide to home school? Will the school then drop all IEP and 504 services? Is that equitable? What about parents who don't have a choice but to send their kids? This reopening initiative is driven by many parents who want free day care and food for their kids, or to simply get them out of their hair. At what cost? How many lives need to be sickened or lost for the reopening of schools to be justified? Who will lose sleep at night when their neighbor or friend's life is curtailed in this reopening process? This is a pandemic. The stakeholders need to get back to the reality of what will likely occur.
Numbers are going up in surrounding states. Children can get sick. Vulnerable populations die. For example, students with asthma, staff with obesity or underlying conditions are vulnerable. Those with conditions yet to be diagnosed, older teachers, or those who are pregnant are more vulnerable to serious illness from this virus. It cannot be overstated that this is NOT the flu. This virus has proven to be far worse. In colder weather the devastation of this virus may be compounded with flu season. This virus is far more easily spread - even by breathing - and the fatality rate continues and the contagiousness is higher. What plans are in place for vulnerable students and educators?
Even otherwise healthy children and adults can get severely ill:
We know some children can be in intensive care for multi-symptom inflammatory response. Contrary to initial findings, we now realize children can get sick. Children can be vectors in carrying this virus home and infecting others. Opening up all avenues of life will only further spread this lethal virus.
In reality, the joy of in-person teaching is lovely and rewarding. Teaching in-person is far easier and more rewarding than online learning. However, some gifts educators receive from in-person learning are in the from of a cold or flu. Let's face it, public schools are germ factories! Daily, teachers face coughing, sneezing, nose-picking kids who traveled wherever with whomever. Their microbial concoctions are easily spread to their teachers.
Hospital workers are at least outfitted with proper PPE, yet we are expected to teach with ever changing PPE protocols and "comforts" for children. Why is it recommended that hospital personnel get the N95 masks while teachers do not? We could have upwards of 25 little faces breathing on us all day in a room!
Adding to the"exposure bank":
Length of time spent in a setting with others in close contact also increases the risk of transferring this virus. It was advised by Vermont health officials that one should manage his or her "risk exposure budget.” In essence, the longer one is exposed to others in a closed setting, or even when going out to run errands, one is at risk of contracting Covid19. In some cases some activities can place one at a higher risk of contracting the virus, while other activities might prove to be a lower risk. However, when one ventures out, a risk is always taken. Asking staff and students to remain in a closed room for 6-8 hours a day only increases their risk bank until actual transmission occurs. Proximity and time spent = an increased risk.
The only really safe way to continue the learning of our students is via remote learning. Remote learning can be successful - consider K-12 learning online platforms. Again, this is the separation of families who can and will from those who can't or won't.
Students at-risk while at home:
Students that educators are concerned about regarding safety and abuse at home need more support, not less. Why aren't social services more involved? We cannot and should not risk the loss of life in the community at large because we are concerned about kids at risk. Schools should not simply provide respite for ongoing abuse and neglect at home. Schools should not be reduced to the only place to solve America's widespread systemic inadequacies in the social services arena. Address the issue of a broken social service system head on. Children at risk need services. Do not solve the problem of abuse and neglect by placing everyone in the public sector at risk for Covid 19 in a public school setting in a effort to shield victims of abuse. Serve the at-risk kids immediately and appropriately. This is a time of reform. All children need to feel safe at all times - not just during the school day. If a child is at-risk, professionals should be knocking on those doors ready to intervene. Let's fix the brokenness of child protective services in America. Do not band aid the brokenness with an ever increasing litany of services provided in public schools. It is time to dissect where there are gaps in social services and provide the necessary reforms. Perhaps the money saved from not reopening can go towards welfare checks on students on our radar for high-risk of abuse and neglect. THAT would be money well spent in this era. If we are worried that some kids are not safe at home, get them to safety!
We worry about our at-risk students and those who experience trauma. Watching people around them get sick and die will likely cause more trauma. Though kids may not understand the many facets of dealing with a pandemic and how people are affected by covid19, later they will grow and realize that a grandparent's death coincided during this time. Ruminating, perhaps they may one day wonder if they inadvertently caused that relatives death by bringing the virus home. THAT contemplation will cause more trauma for the general student population now and later on than having to stay home a little while longer.
Students who do not complete their work online:
If school work is not getting done...hold parents and students accountable! Accountability, discipline and responsibility are not dirty words! These words help to delineate those who are capable and those who are incapable of showing up and doing a job that needs to be done - like it or not. Parental values about education are often perpetuated in the home. Those who value education will likely continue to succeed regardless of the modality of learning. Those who do not value education will likely not be as successful. Take on the parents and students. Education is a right! Truancy officers could do quite well enforcing parents who educationally neglect their children.'
Telling the truth:
One's true character can be defined by his or her ability to tell the truth...even when it is hard...even when there are consequences involved. Who is to say that the truth will be told about where people venture, who they have contact with and if they have properly quarantined? Who is to say that parents will not medicate their kids to bring fevers down in order for the school to provide daycare? Reopening plans assume a lot. It assumes people will tell the truth. It assumes people have integrity to do the right thing. It assumes parents will be team players in keep school systems safe. This very lack of moral integrity is why the virus is spreading! Looking around any town in the U.S. many people are very capricious about this virus with little to no thought as to how their actions can grossly and negatively impact others. It only takes one weak link in a chain for the entire plan to implode.
Many are out and about with no masks on as they either do not care or this infringes on their rights. Kids are playing with other households and attending birthday parties. Many are simply not doing what needs to be done for the greater good.
Insuring safety at school:
Regarding temperature checks, do the math: average 220 students at a local school X 1 minute per check and logging information = about 3 hours of time spent doing this. Schools would need to hire more nurses and personnel to do this this very job. If the bus driver does this, it may be 20-30 mins more added to the drivers time. What about disrespectful/behavior kids who would not or could not provide accurate information to questions asked? How will we really ever know with confidence who is infected and who is not? The point is...we don't know!
This plan for Vermont schools and even other schools in the nation simply WILL NOT work. This is time and cost intensive! Does anyone see that remote learning for 4-6 months more may just be the answer to saving lots of resources and keeping all safe. Later, we will re-evaluate the situation and make (hopefully) sound decisions based on science, data and common sense.
If people are smart and are allowed to live through this situation, then we can deal with the trauma afterward. Together, we’ll sort through this and grow. Let's be safe, make the hard choice and close schools until we have a vaccine or numbers dwindle to such a minute level that the risk is VERY low or virtually non-existent. Let students learn remotely. Let families stay safe. Do the right thing, even if it is hard. Safety for all first!
~Amanda Allison, M.Ed.