The US is not ready to open schools. We blew it. Let’s face reality squarely and quit making outcomes in our country even worse.
New York’s Michael Flanagan Ed. D. wrote,
“The pressure to reopen schools, and return to work, will continue to intensify, no matter how many new cases of Covid-19 there are each day, and the numbers are growing. Businesses, politicians and even health professionals are in the process of trying to convince us that sending our kids back to school will be safe.”
As if to prove Flanagan’s claim, Harvard’s “Education Next” published a Frederick Hess interview with Jeb Bush where he repeatedly emphasized,
“First and foremost, schools have to open with the health and safety of our students and teachers being paramount. But they have to open, or we will have huge economic, health, and social challenges.”
Not to be outdone by “low energy Jeb”, the President of the United States employed his normal elegance when tweeting,
“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available.”
Republican Congressmen, Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, have introduced the Reopen Our Schools Act. Congressman Banks declared,
“Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy. Many parents rely on their kids going to school so they can go to work. To get our society up and running again, we need our children back in school.”
The Economist claims schools should be the first economic institutions to reopen and added,
“Those who work at home are less productive if distracted by loud wails and the eerie silence that portends jam being spread on the sofa. Those who work outside the home cannot do so unless someone minds their offspring.”
These neoliberal forces are promoting the idea that teachers and children must be thrust into an unsafe environment so the world’s economic engines can continue providing decent return on investment. Make no mistake, face to face teaching during this pandemic without proper conditions is fraught with danger.
Political leaders know that so they are racing to pass legislation indemnifying schools from legal liability. In California, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and his coauthor State Senator Susan Rubio, D-LA, introduced AB1384 to shield schools. O’Donnell made this ludicrous statement,
“We need to do everything we can to protect the students, and the schools. My bill will indemnify school districts as long as they follow all the state and local health directives. We still want school districts to use best practices when it comes to student safety.”
In May, Mitch McConnell announced that the US Senate was taking up legislation to protect schools from lawsuits. He stated, “Can you image the nightmare that could unfold this fall when K-12 kids are still at home, when colleges and universities are still not open?”
When it comes to political malfeasance, Florida is determined not to be outdone. Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education, is the former Speaker of the House and a charter school owner. On Monday, he released an order stating, “Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students …”
The forced school reopening amounts to a conscription putting teachers, students and families at risk. Florida trails only New York and California in confirmed Covid-19 cases and Miami-Dade County is a national leader in cases. At this time, Covid-19 cases in the state are spiking to new record levels.
Obviously, Commissioner Corcoran’s order ignores health and safety. It is driven solely by a neoliberal ideology valuing commercial enterprise above human life.
Could-a Should-a Would-a
If the United States had acted decisively in late February and shut down businesses, instituted robust testing, contact tracing and social distancing, we probably could safely open schools now. It is also likely that more than 120,000 victims of the virus would be alive today.
Even in March when it became clear to everyone but a fringe element that we had a huge problem, a united response led by the federal government would have put us in position to reopen in-school education.
Instead of a united effort to effectively meet the Sars-CoV-2 crisis, we experienced politicization and demagoguery.
By the end of March, California had an effective shutdown in place with almost universal cooperation. Then ultra-conservative media started agitating against the shut down.
In late April, The Conservative Daily Post reported on claims by two Bakersfield, California emergency room doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi. These doctors from Accelerated Urgent Care claimed that the nationwide lockdown policies are not an appropriate reaction to the “China-originated novel coronavirus” and were causing other healthcare problems to be ignored.
Kristi Noem, the Republican Governor of South Dakota, publically opposed CDC health guidelines saying, “I believe in our freedoms.” This happened just days after the President of the United States took to twitter and attacked the Democratic governors of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, calling for their states to be liberated.
Attack on Governor Gretchen Whitmer for Implementing CDC Guidelines in her State
This constant degrading of the public response to Covid-19 led to more people joining in protest against state policies. Soon conservative groups were demanding that schools be reopened immediately.
This Los Angeles Times Picture was taken in Orange County May 9, 2020
Because our response to the novel corona virus was undermined, states do not meet the safety criteria for opening schools.
The Whitehouse has created an opening America website with proposed state or regional gating criteria. They include:
“Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period AND Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period”
“Ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts of COVID+ results”
“Ensure sentinel surveillance sites are screening for asymptomatic cases and contacts for COVID+ results are traced (sites operate at locations that serve older individuals, lower-income Americans, racial minorities, and Native Americans)”
“Ability to quickly and independently supply sufficient Personal Protective Equipment and critical medical equipment to handle dramatic surge in need”
America’s schools do not meet these “gating criteria.” Covid-19 infections in the United States are accelerating, so out of control that testing with contact tracing is not possible. The following Johns Hopkins graphic makes it clear that this situation will not ameliorate quickly.
The Johns Hopkins Graph is Normalized to Daily Cases per Million
Teachers and Students Will Not Be Safe
Neil Demause of Fairness & Accuracy Reporting wrote on July 3rd about opening businesses. He shared,
“Infectious disease experts say that offices can be the perfect petri dishes for viral spread, involving gatherings of a large number of people, indoors, for a long time, with recirculated air. As one study (Business Insider, 4/28/20) of a coronavirus outbreak at a Seoul call center showed, the virus can quickly spread across an entire floor, especially in a modern open-plan office.”
It is easy to extrapolate the Korean call center to the local 3rd grade classroom.
Dartmouth Immunologist Erin Bromage states, “We know that at least 44% of all infections–and the majority of community-acquired transmissions–occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people).” Professor Bromage also notes, “Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures.”
Pennsylvania educator Steven Singer observed, “And even if young people are mostly asymptomatic, chances are good they’ll spread this thing to the rest of us.” The paper Steven cited also states, “Although clinical manifestations of children’s COVID-19 cases were generally less severe than those of adults’ patients, young children, particularly infants, were vulnerable to infection.”
On Monday, The Daily Mail reported, “As many as half of coronavirus patients with NO symptoms may silently suffer ‘disturbing’ lung damage that leaves them oxygen-deprived without knowing it, study finds.”
Education professionals have been publishing concerns recently.
Rutgers University’s Mark Weber Ed. D. posted “How Schools Work: A Practical Guide for Policymakers During a Pandemic.” His list is not exhaustive but it gives the laymen an idea of the practicalities involved with doing school. It includes:
“The typical American school cannot accommodate social distancing of their student population for the duration of the school day.”
“Children, especially young children, cannot be expected to stay six feet away from everyone else during an entire school day.”
“Children cannot be expected to wear masks of any kind for the duration of a school day.”
The author and special education expert, Nancy Bailey, recently posted, “22 Reasons Why Schools Should NOT Reopen in the Fall.” Among the 22 were:
“2. How Will the Flu and Covid-19 Tango?… Last January, before Covid-19 became well known, 27 children had died of the flu. What will the dance of these two illnesses look like in the fall?”
“8. Cost for Safety: The Council of State Chief School Officers estimate that schools will need $245 billion to safely reopen.”
“18. School Restrooms: … School bathroom conditions have always been a source of concern.”
“19. Teacher Qualifications: There are not enough teachers for smaller classes for social distancing. Experienced older teachers may not want to get sick. Will schools hire a glut of teachers without qualifications?”
Oakland, California high school history teacher and union organizer, Harley Litzelman, published “Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus.” He addressed among other issues, the likely large loss of teachers to the ill-fated open-schools-on-campus-now policy. Litzelman shared,
“A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll found that one in five teachers say they are unlikely to return to campus next year, signaling a tsunami of resignations. Chicago middle school teacher Belinda Mckinney-Childrey told ChalkBeat that “I can’t chance my health to go back. I love my job, I love what I do, but when push comes to shove, I think the majority of us will be like ‘I think we’re going to retire.’” Also, this is personal; my fiancée has serious asthma. She’s the best middle school English teacher I know, but she won’t teach next year if she’s forced to return to campus.”
Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, participated in a televised interview about her objection to Governor Baker’s plans to reopen schools. She was asked about the American Association of Pediatrics call for schools to open “as soon as possible.” Aren’t they aligned with Governor Baker’s position? Najimy pointed out, “The AAP does not have practical experience in school and … they are not absolutists.”
Steven Singer posted, “Do NOT Play Russian Roulette with Our Lives – No In-Person Schooling During a Pandemic.” In the article, Steven declares, “Reopening schools to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic is tantamount to Russian Roulette with the lives of students, teachers and families.”
On Monday, education writer, Jenifer Berkshire, tweeted, “The school reopening fight just gets crazier – and more politically confusing. In growing # of states GOP now saying ‘open the schools or else’”
Community leaders, religious leaders and schools will need to work together for a solution to child care. There are many unused recreations centers, school facilities, libraries and church facilities available. Forcing children and teachers into an unsafe situation is not the only way to solve the child care dilemma.
In order to reopen schools safely, there are two non-negotiable imperatives. First, the rampaging virus must be brought under control through testing and robust contact tracing. Second, the US Senate must send schools $245 billion dollars to pay for the social distancing logistics, supplies, staff and transportation enhancements required.
Since there is no way to meet the first requirement and it is unlikely the Republican led Senate will meet the second. Let us quit pretending and concentrate are efforts on creating enhanced distance learning this fall.