Now with the arrival of August, school will soon be open. Some school districts will try the hybrid model, whereas some are staying with a distance learning plan ‘until further notice’. The hybrid model has the student class size split into smaller groups. The groups spend part of the week in school and switch off with time at home over remote learning. A recent national news segment from Georgia shows elementary students getting on their bus. Some states have opened, with masks.
One of the arguments from the American Association of Pediatrics was the need that students are together to fulfill socio-emotional needs. Yes, that’s entirely true. Human beings are pack animals; it’s really not in our DNA to isolate. Yet despite this basic need, we can look back at that first pillar of pandemic recovery, health and hygiene. Children can contract Covid. A second grader in Georgia just tested positive for Covid, after their first day at school. Children may be asymptomatic carriers, passing the virus on to another. Last month, the mayor of Atlanta, along with her husband and one of her children were tested positive. She said she has no idea how they contracted the virus.
Can teachers now be classed as essential workers? Must they go to work on-site? As of this writing, teachers from a large school district in San Jose are now forced to go back into the classroom under a new agreement with their district. Yet they will be teaching to empty rooms, as the students will all be online. Adults are most often the victims of this virus; do we jeopardize their health for the sake of opening schools? We cannot endanger anyone.
This brings us to some larger, more ethical questions. What priorities do we have around the health and welfare of the people, especially our children?
Some countries with stringent lockdown guidelines have come out of Covid. As the number of cases is very low, they are prepared to send their children back to school, with safeguards in place. On the other hand, there is the sense that some governments want children back in school so workers can go back to their jobs, thereby stimulating the economy. Yet with the pandemic still raging in many states, it’s not safe for anyone, which includes parents going back into their workplace. This has the greatest effect on essential workers, often people of color, who are the most vulnerable to contract the virus.
If we believe our society improves if people are better educated, then reopening the schools would be a top priority. Our educated students will be the future productive adults of our society. The United States did not wait to ‘flatten the curve’. Until we do so, let’s keep everyone safe. Tame the spread of this virus in whatever means possible. Then reopen schools with appropriate on-site safeguards, so the entire school will be protected to guide our children into a positive future.
© Jess L. Roat, August 2020