As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country continues to set new records almost daily, the prospects for students returning to school full-time in the fall looks increasingly questionable. …
As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country continues to set new records almost daily, the prospects for students returning to school full-time in the fall looks increasingly questionable. It’s a tough decision for state officials, who are expected to provide some degree of guidance to schools here in Minnesota later this month.
We all know that parents are eager to see their kids go back to school. Last spring’s school closures proved a major challenge for many parents, particularly single parents, as they were forced to juggle work and limited childcare options, all while trying to help their kids navigate the world of remote learning.
Studies have shown that students from low income families faced the biggest challenges with remote learning. In many cases, they were already behind and only slipped further back without the support system that schools provide to so many young people from low income families. Schools provide regular meals, supportive teachers, counselors, and peers. For many students, the physical and emotional isolation that went along with remote learning was challenging for their mental health. In short, there is no question that getting kids back to school should be a priority.
Yet, can it be done without further exacerbating a pandemic that seems increasingly out of control in the U.S?
Putting kids back in schools barely six weeks from today looks like an enormous risk, and an incredibly complex task assuming that schools will do their best to keep their students, teachers, and staff safe. The logistics alone are daunting. Transportation is going to be a major challenge. Observing the required social distancing means buses designed for 76 kids will likely be able to carry no more than a third that number. Schools can’t afford to buy more buses, and they couldn’t find drivers even if they had the buses available.
One option that might make sense is a hybrid model, where students would attend classes in person every other day and work remotely the rest of the time. Half the student body could be on one schedule, while the other half would be in school the other days. That helps solve the transportation issue, and it also cuts class sizes in half, allowing for social distancing in classrooms.
But there are so many other issues to consider. Does each teacher now teach half the number of students they did before, or are they expected to teach their remote students at the same time that they have students in the classroom?
And what happens if a student or teacher gets sick? Is the whole class quarantined for two weeks? We all know that students and teachers are constantly at risk of colds and flu throughout the fall and winter. COVID-19 is at least as contagious as those common illnesses, only much more dangerous. President Trump was flat out wrong earlier this month when he claimed 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are harmless. In fact, nearly five percent of those who catch the virus die from it, and one-in-five requires hospitalization, which is why hospitals are now overflowing in many parts of the country.
Requiring everyone to wear personal protective equipment, or PPE, like face masks could help reduce the risk in schools. Health experts all agree that masks are critically important to preventing the spread but getting young people to comply has proven to be a challenge. Even if schools could get students to take mask-wearing seriously, the country is again facing an increasingly acute shortage of PPE. This administration has focused so much on gaslighting and dividing the American people about this pandemic that they haven’t undertaken the real work of protecting the public.
Rather than acknowledging that his early push to reopen the economy has given the pandemic new life, President Trump has doubled down by threatening funding for school districts if they don’t reopen as usual this fall. President Trump, who appears focused only on the politics of the pandemic, clearly has no understanding or concern for the complexities involved. When the experts at the Center for Disease Control predicted in a recent report that sending kids back to school full-time this fall would likely spark an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, the administration simply suppressed the support, rather than seeing it for the caution sign it represented.
Figuring this out is going to be tough enough for states and schools without a meddling president who ignores his own experts and channels the logic of simpletons picked up on social media. That may be how Trump runs his White House. Parents rightfully expect more from their schools.