Who Still Thinks Sending Kids Back to School Isn’t a Risky Decision?

It’s time to face reality and stop pretending everything will be okay

Lisa Walton
Aug 3, 2020 · 9 min read
Back to school bus
Back to school bus
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Here it is. The first Monday of August.

I’m not sure how March, April and May lasted sixteen years and June and July were gone in sixty seconds.

But here we are. Back to school season is upon us.

Some school districts have already started the new academic year. The rest aren’t far behind.

Every day more schools are releasing their plans to get students back to learning safely. Astoundingly, some of those plans still include traditional in-person learning.

Which makes me wonder if we are all on the same page . . .

Just The Facts

July was a brutal month for the coronavirus in the U.S.

There were over 1.9 million new cases of coronavirus recorded in the U.S. This accounts for a whopping 42% of all recorded cases in our country.

The average death toll from the virus has been 1000 people per day, for the last week.

The virus is racing through the midwest, taking hold in rural communities. And, it’s returning to hotspots that thought they had it under control.

Yet, somehow, despite all this, many people still believe it’s “safe” to send kids back to school.

Governments which had eased restrictions are beginning to tighten things up again.

In Pennsylvania, my home state, restaurants are limited to 25% capacity. Bars and restaurants can’t serve alcohol without food. Employees are urged to work from home.

My husband has placed his eight office staffers back on remote assignment. Even though they all have private workspaces in a 2800 square foot facility.

Movie theaters are not open. Nor are McDonalds’ dining rooms.

I can’t drink a cup of coffee in Starbucks.

Yet, somehow, despite all this, many people still believe it’s “safe” to send kids back to school.

It is way past time for us to retire this fantasy.

Have We Learned Nothing?

Every time large groups of people gather together the virus spreads.

We need look no further than the debacle that is Major League Baseball’s abbreviated season to see how quickly and easily this happens.

At little more than a week into the season, 18 Marlins players and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. And so have at least six St. Louis Cardinals.

Sixteen games have been rescheduled or postponed.

Some of the Phillies may or may not have the virus. Their season went on hiatus on July 27 after hosting the Marlins. But after receiving false positives, they have since begun team workouts and will play the N.Y. Yankees on tonight, August 4th.

Assuming, of course, there are no new positive cases.

Perhaps the speed with which the virus took over the MLB was a surprise. But the fact that it’s running rampant through a close-knit population is not.

People are acting shocked at this turn of events. Including the commissioner himself, who threatened to shut down the whole season. He has since retreated from that statement.

But I call B.S.

Who among us didn’t see this coming?

Perhaps the speed with which the virus took over the MLB was a surprise. But the fact that it’s running rampant through a close-knit population is not.

I can hear the arguments now . . . . Surely we can distinguish professional baseball players from students.

Baseball players are adults. Adults spread the disease much more easily. Or so they say.

And those players are spending a lot of time together in close quarters.

That’s true.

But consider this . . .

Summer Camp Infections

In late June, the virus quickly spread through a summer camp in Georgia after a teenage counselor got sick. The camp began sending campers home the next day.

It was too late. Over 260 campers and staff tested positive for the virus. In one week the virus infected 44% of counselors and campers.

COVID-19 can and does spread efficiently through youth populations. And it does so even when many mitigation strategies are implemented.

I know, you’re probably still not convinced. I mean, that’s anecdotal evidence. Just one example.

But this was not an isolated incident.

The Kanakuk K-2 camp in Missouri was also forced to close after 41 people became infected with the coronavirus. By the following week, infections had doubled to 82. The camp served kids between 13–18.

The same age as middle and high school students.

According to its website, the camp took extraordinary precautions to keep campers safe. These included “documented health screenings; daily temperature checks; highly qualified doctors and nurses; hand sanitizer in all buildings; limited access to camp grounds for outsiders; elaborate quarantine protocols; rigorous cleaning; and stringent limits on touching.” But these precautions were not enough to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But, Kids Need to Be in School

President Trump, the CDC and several state governors have all declared that schools must reopen this fall.

President Trump threatened to cut funding to schools that don’t reopen for in-person instruction. (He doesn’t have authority to do so.) And he demanded the CDC revise their guidelines for school reopening because the original guidelines were too strict.

After first refusing to do so, the CDC complied.

In a document titled The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall the CDC concludes that in-person schooling is in the best interests of America’s children.

To convince parents of this, the CDC states, “[t]he best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children.”

I’m curious what this “best available evidence” is. Where did it come from? Who collected it? When was it collected?

And, perhaps most importantly, since kids have not been in school since the virus took hold in America, how do we know this evidence is reliable when we change the variables?

I’d also like a definition of “school-aged children”. My son is a high school senior. He is 6'2". He will be 18 in December. I tend not to think of him as a “school-aged” child.

When a public health agency repeatedly uses qualifiers in their conclusions it raises a red flag.

The CDC document also reassures parents that children are not likely to spread the disease. “Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low.”

Wow! Way to go out on a limb there CDC! The studies “suggest” that transmission “may be” low? Great.

Do you find this language persuasive?

Because, I don’t.

When a public health agency repeatedly uses qualifiers in their conclusions it raises a red flag.

Well, at least it should. Especially when other studies contradict those conclusions.

Conflicting Evidence

On July 18, 2020, the New York Times reported that a study out of South Korea demonstrates that children can spread the virus. This study concluded that children “between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.”

Say what? “At least as well as adults do”? You mean, for lack of a better scientific term, “really easily”?

This is an alarming finding. More than half of all school students fall into this age range. Why aren’t people worried about this?

In light of this evidence we should definitely think twice about opening middle and high schools.

Before we rush to open schools, and send kids into petri-dishes, maybe we should actually look at the new scientific data.

Additionally, on July 30, 2020, the New York Times reported that children have at least as much of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as infected adults. While this does not mean that children are as contagious as adults, it should cause pause.

Previously, scientists believed that children carried lower viral loads. It appears that is not the case.

Before we rush to open schools, and send kids into petri-dishes, maybe we should actually look at the new scientific data.

This is not a popular opinion among the Trump administration. Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany is by now notorious for proclaiming “science should not stand in the way of schools reopening.”

At least she’s honest.

The administrations hasn’t let science or facts stand in the way of their inane approach to managing COVID-19 yet. Why start now?

I mean other than the lives of our nation’s children. And teachers. And families.

Judging by the number of parents still rooting for in-person learning, it seems the American public isn’t too bothered by science either.

Back to School Options

Luckily, many school districts are making their own decisions. Throughout the nation schools appear to be taking a measured approach to the new school year.

Several districts have decided to begin the year virtually (Los Angeles, San Diego, Milwaukee, Gary, Indiana, and Boston, to name a few). Others have adopted carefully created hybrid models. This is an example from my alma mater in New Jersey.

I’ll admit, at first glance, it’s confusing. I wasn’t sure who would be doing what, where or when. But the complexity is what makes it admirable. A lot of thought and planning went into preparing this document.

I woud feel good about sending my child to a school where health and safety are clearly the priority.

Some schools, however, are following the government edict and proceeding with business as usual.

You might have guessed by now that my district is one of those.

Our Reopening “Plan”

We received our back to school “plan” on Friday, July 31. Although “plan” is too kind a word.

What we actually got was a letter from the superintendent informing us that school will begin as scheduled on August 25. This letter included a list of 11 new safety protocols.

The entire document was just over one page long.

Our local school board and administrators think it’s a good idea to send our kids back into crowded classrooms. Via overcrowded buses. In the midst of a pandemic.

They are also arrogant enough to think that a one page letter is sufficient to garner parent trust.

The letter included provisions for temperature screenings, mask wearing (sometimes), forward-facing desks, hand sanitizer and education on mitigation.

It also provided the option to choose virtual schooling if we desire.

Although, according to the letter, doing so will be damning our kids to an inferior educational experience and will probably lead to an eternity of learning loss and unrealized academic potential.

I’m paraphrasing.

But the letter clearly tries to discourage parents from choosing the virtual option. In fact, the paragraph about why we should select in-person instruction is the longest paragraph in the document.

Parent Concerns

At least I am not alone when it comes to thinking we should not sending kids back to school during a pandemic.

A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press — NORC Center for Public Affairs surveyed parents about the upcoming school year. A full 31% of parents surveyed said they did not believe that schools should open at all for in-person learning this year. At least not right now.

Where can I find those parents? They are my people.

Forty-six percent of parents believe that schools need to make major modifications to reopen safely. This includes things like mandatory mask wearing, disinfection procedures, and strict social distancing. They also cited hybrid schedules and class cohorts as essential to limit the number of people on campus at any one time.

Unfortunately our plan falls short on these criteria. It makes no assurances for social distancing. In fact, the letter uses qualifiers, like “to the extent possible”, when it describes mitigation measures. And all of our students will be on campus all day every day.

No Guinea Pigs Here

Well, all of our students except mine.

Reopening schools now is risky and foolish. It is a dangerous social experiment. That uses kids as guinea pigs.

We know how fast this virus spreads through institutional settings. It ravaged nursing homes, ran through prisons and spread through summer camps.

It hasn’t happened in schools, yet, because schools were not open.

If we continue to ignore reality and proceed with this half-baked reopening plan, there is one thing we can be sure of: COVID-19 will come to school.

There is no scientific reason to believe that assembling hundreds of people in confined spaces for eight hours a day will not lead to infections. In fact, all of the evidence points to the contrary conclusion.

If we continue to ignore reality and proceed with this half-baked reopening plan, there is one thing we can be sure of: COVID-19 will come to school.

People will get sick. And people will die.

It really is time to stop pretending everything is going to be okay and start making other plans.

Let’s talk About That . . .

Common sense conversation about current topics, big and small

Lisa Walton

Written by

Former lawyer, forever teacher and professional writer, Lisa writes about education, parenting and personal & professional growth. www.garnetghostwriting.com

Let’s talk About That . . .

Real talk, about life lately. A place for frank, thought-provoking conversations about what’s going on in the world today. Life, family, careers, school, tech, trends, books, media, and more.

Lisa Walton

Written by

Former lawyer, forever teacher and professional writer, Lisa writes about education, parenting and personal & professional growth. www.garnetghostwriting.com

Let’s talk About That . . .

Real talk, about life lately. A place for frank, thought-provoking conversations about what’s going on in the world today. Life, family, careers, school, tech, trends, books, media, and more.

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