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Schools vs the Pandemic

Published on: September 12th, 2020

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The school year is arriving and it doesn’t look great

 

 

 

Complicated times are upon us and as always, the most vulnerable are suffering. The Pandemic of 2020 has only worsened in a seemingly steady decline since June and we’re faced with the same uncertainties as those in March. The feds and our local governments continue to scramble to react to the situation, misinformation continues to run rampant, and – to make things worse – we’re facing the approach of the 2020-21 school year with the same communal confidence as that of a Boeing 737 Max.

 

 

THE CLIMATE 

 

Like much of the American political sphere, we’ve allowed for the Pandemic to become yet another hardlined Red v. Blue social issue that is a matter of sides instead of compromise. We (and yes, we’re all guilty) have allowed ourselves to form opinions based on hear-say, rage media, click-bait, and the age old destructive tendency to assume. People want information but are met with confusing contradictions instead. Luckily, and with the fairly stable advice of Dr. Fauci, we have developed a system of social distancing and mask wearing that has been proven favorable in slowing the spread to prevent our hospitals from being overrun; unfortunately, it has come down to individual adherence. 

 

People are frustrated. Opening schools is incredibly controversial because you’re weighing safety against expected and desired normalcy. Some believe that the pandemic isn’t that big of a deal, some believe that schools should remain closed and that the country should lock down again. Somewhere in the middle is the majority of the population that just aren’t sure about what should be happening. They’re the ones that find masks an annoying necessity, but not an infringement of their civil liberties, they practice social distancing, are afraid for their health, their financial futures, they’re worried about their children’s development, and are understandably upset with how the pandemic has been handled by domestic and global health organizations. They (now) very clearly understand how integral schools are to our society and our economic system but also recognize that they provide pristine conditions to assure COVID acquisition and inevitable spread.

 

 

CURRENT PLANS

   

Our two county districts, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD), have both released plans for starting the 20-21 school year online. Both districts had initially intended to start with a combined in-person / online lesson plan, but at the beginning of August both districts switched to online only. On August 5th,, the Executive Director of Boulder County Public Health, issued a letter to Twin Pines Charter Academy supporting the opening of schools. It is assumed that most private and charter schools that mostly have an open but prepare for the worst plan, will use Zayach’s approval as justification for opening. Both Districts, BVSD and SVVSD, will reassess at the end of September whether it’s safe to move to a semi-in-person phase. Students with disabilities will continue to have in-person learning opporunities.

 

 

 

WHAT IF

 

What isn’t so clear is what any of these schools will do when an outbreak occurs. On August 3rd, it was reported that Georgia’s largest school district, Gewinnt County, had 260 employees in quarantine for either testing positive or having come in contact with someone who tested positive. None of the schools have a solid plan because the reality of the situation is, the only plan would be to shut it down again. If even a single student were to test positive for Covid-19, the amount of people they would have come in contact with prior to testing positive would trigger a mass quarantine. BVSD does admit in their reopening plan that they intend to have certain groups fluctuate between phases throughout the year. Prevention standards are being raised to amplify cleaning, require masks (including back-up masks), provide desktop partitions, health checks, and to encourage good hygiene. Still, it’s inevitable that an outbreak will occur. SVVSD stated that they will work with local health officials to determine the necessary measures to be taken. 

 

Another issue that has been recently raised by local parents is the accessibility of school buses. Many parents depend on buses to get their kids to school and, unfortunately, a lack of transportation will affect low-income families the most. BVSD has been working with RTD to establish new routes and better stops for students to safely get to school each day, especially for those who live several miles away. Students with disabilities will be guaranteed service. When confronting potential discrimination, District Chief Communications Officer Randy Barber explained thatt, “at some point we don’t have enough buses and drivers to serve everybody.” Fortunately for the community, it’s Barber’s job to figure out how to make sure the community’s needs are met and that established bus routes do not endanger or overly complicate the lives of students.

 

 

HOMESCHOOLING 

 

School systems, be it public or private, are so integral to our society that considering homeschooling as an effective alternative has proven to be unrealistic. Unless there is a major shift in accessibility, parent engagement, and funding, the U.S. just isn’t equipped to turn every parent into a teacher. Perhaps some have turned out to be fabulous teachers with incredible patience and determined dedication but, for the most part, homeschooling has failed. It’s not solely a matter of abilities, or interest, or discipline, that make a good student, it’s the teachers ability to handle the systematic chaos of adolescence, their ability to effectively convey knowledge, and their ability to treat their child as a student that makes the difference. 

 

 

PODS

 

Children also need structured socialization, exercise, fun, and a change of scenery from the doldrums of being stuck at home. Although many parents recognize the inherent difficulty of successful homeschooling, local groups have turned their attention towards improving learning at home by forming so-called learning pods. These pods would consist of four to five families working together to educate their children either on their own, by their respective school’s online program, or by hiring a teacher. These Pods would allows parents to continue their jobs and provide students with the ability to interact with peers throughout the day in a more formalized setting. 

 

A recent New York Times article questioned whether or not the Pods will endanger equality. “Children whose parents have the means to participate in learning pods will most likely return to school academically ahead, while many low-income children will struggle at home without computers or reliable internet for online learning.” It’s with utmost certainty that the rich will have more resources to educate their children than those who don’t. A counterpoint to this, and with the reluctant acceptance of the inequality that exists amongst American families, is that those who are able to should stay home, thereby providing space and increased safety in schools for those who wouldn’t be able to successfully learn without the facility or the teachers. However, a drop in class sizes across Colorado school districts could cause funding to be redirected to other projects that benefit a larger number of people.

 

 

IN FAVOR OF REOPENING 

 

In July, the CDC released their newest recommendation for opening schools that explicitly stated that schools need to open. The Trump Administration went so far as to threaten to withhold school funding if they didn’t. The CDC, of course, didn’t mention this but the recommendation did heavily focus on the negative effects of not going to school. The influence of the administration is clear and for a federal health organization to push such a recommendation is both irresponsible and favors the economy over safety. The CDC’s argues that the risk for students is relatively low because children account for only 7 percent of Covid cases and less than 0.1 percent of Covid-19 deaths. Those stats have also been called into question, with reports that children are also highly susceptible and contagious. Other rationale that the CDC offers for why it’s so necessary for children to go back to school include:

  • Provide educational instruction;
  • support the development of social and emotional skills;
  • create a safe environment for learning;
  • address nutritional needs; and
  • facilitate physical activity.

 

 

The CDC isn’t wrong but they are arguing from a perspective that favors opening schools and they are omitting the inevitability that the virus will spread from students to parents/guardians and amongst the community. There is certainly no argument against the importance of schools in a child’s life; for many they serve as a lifeline. 30 million students in the U.S. qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches according to the National School Lunch Program. 2.9 million of the students do not know when or from where their next meal will come, and one in five kids in the U.S. live below the poverty line.

Schools are also one of the first safety-net’s that a child encounters when signs of abuse and neglect surface. During the pandemic, stress, joblessness, financial insecurity, skyrocketing alcohol sales, and a lack of resources has increased domestic violence across the country. For many of the children that face domestic violence, not going to school has not only isolated them in the household, but removed any possibility of external awareness.

 

 

FOR  KEEPING

SCHOOLS   CLOSED

 

Public health. Schools are difficult places to socially distance and are filled with young people that tend to bend the rules of social distancing. Teachers will have to choose between their job and their health if they cannot be guaranteed safety. According to a report by Kaiser Permanente, 1 in 4 teachers are at risk of serious illness if they acquire Covid-19 due to age and underlying conditions. An outbreak is pretty certain to happen at schools, and it won’t just be the students and the teachers that are affected. If children truly are less likely to show symptoms or become ill, they will still continue to have the ability to transmit the virus to other people once they leave school. Although the CDC claimed that opening schools would have a positive effect on student’s mental health, some disagree. Therapist Jean Ann, LCMFT, RPT, CFPT, claims that students could face potentially traumatic scenarios such as, death of loved ones and community members, restrictive engagement and behavioral expectations, the unknowns of quarantined teachers and peers, and the constant awareness of community trauma and fear. 

 

 

TEACHERS 

 

They’re not happy. On a recent press call that included Amie Baca-Oehlert, the President of the Colorado Education Association, it was clear that the consensus was that the state and the school districts weren’t doing enough. Baca-Oehlert expressed that the CEA would only support the opening of schools if decision making involved employees, specific safety protocols and protections were provided, transparency for which disease data was used for decisions, and that all students, staff, and families are provided equitable access to education and tools no matter where the learning occurs. 

 

According to a survey from the CEA, 95% of respondents say educators should be able to vote on the districts return to school plan, 53% want the the school year to start 100% remote, 8% want the school year to start 100% in person, and fewer than 1/5th of respondents believe districts can keep them safe.

 

On the same press call, several teachers from different districts condemned the actions of the federal government to force schools to open and pleaded that it was necessary for schools to assure the safety of all before doing so. One teacher even claimed that they would be joining a growing number of teachers who will be refusing to return to work if the requirements set by the CEA are not met.

 

Whether teachers have a right to refuse to work because they fear their safety is something that country is going to have to address.

 

 

ABOUT YOUR LEADERS

 

It’s important as we move forward and as the new school year begins that we truly listen to what leadership is saying. Times like these can bring out the worst in us, and highlight the incompetence of those who are in charge. It’s pretty clear that those who run our school districts or our townships probably didn’t have a clue what to do when the pandemic hit. It isn’t often that those who run our schools are put to the test by a crisis that changes on the daily. It is however their duty to respond responsibly, effectively, and with an educated perspective, remembering to place safety above all else. 

 

Today’s world and our readily available social media outlets allow for us to glimpse the reality of those who so often are camouflaged by PR strategy. It gives us the chance to hear the oft ridiculous opinions of those whom we have entrusted with power. As one board member for Twin Peaks Charter School so gracefully shared on their Facebook, [the Pandemic] “is all just a big scam!” 

 

How the 2020-21 school year will pan out is anyone’s guess but it doesn’t look great. Smaller class sizes, better hygiene standards, online learning opportunities, and at home support for students will certainly help but the potential for exposure remains high. Six foot social distancing requirements, masks, capacity limits for cafeterias, buses, libraries, and other areas will all play a role in changing the way schools function and the way that children learn. The outbreaks will continue and schools will eventually shudder because the push to open schools has been to do just that, to open them, by any means necessary with hope of returning to a normal that we lost in early spring. 

 

 

 

Misconceptions

 

Masks

They work but maybe not all the time and mostly because of people not using them correctly. It comes down to the particles and protecting others. If you’re sick and sneezing and coughing, a mask is going to prevent those particles from spreading. You can definitely still breathe, it’s not an infringement of your rights, and it forces everyone to be aware of the ongoing pandemic. Wear it.

 

Herd Immunity

Opening the floodgates would cause lots of people would die and our healthcare system would buckle under the influx. According to the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, a self-proclaimed “math guy”, Mississippi’s healthcare system began to strain at just 36,000 cases. In order for the state to achieve only 40% herd immunity (the actual number needed is closer to 70-80%) they would need 1.2 million cases or 3000 new ones every day. Even if it were possible, they calculate that over 3 million people would die, enough to cause a major downturn in the economy anyway.

 

Washing your hands

Soap bonds with and physically removes the bacteria and potential virus. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.

 

Hydroxychloroquine 

Fauci stated that “trials show consistently that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in the treatment of coronavirus disease or Covid-19.” The NIH also recommends against using hydroxychloroquine.

 

More testing = more cases

Yes, the more you test, the more you will become aware of how many cases actually exist. It’s like saying, if you collect data, you expect to see data. That’s not very interesting or helpful.  The way that the Trump administration uses this ploy is also incredibly confusing because it can be interpreted that we’re hurting ourselves by testing. Testing provides scope, and at the moment we’re still increasing and that means that we have no idea how big this pandemic really is.

 

 

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