There’s much debate about whether, in the midst of a pandemic, we should send our children to school in an in-person environment.
In March, we closed schools and businesses when the number of new COVID cases topped 117 per week for the three Coast counties. Last week there were 700 new cases and the week before there were 1000 new COVID cases and we are planning to send our children and teachers, back to school albeit in a different setting of social distancing and (hopefully) wearing masks.
The viral activity, (ease of spread), within our community is almost 10 times what it was in March when we closed the schools. Now, we are embarking on a new experiment in which children and adults will be traveling from their homes and families five days a week, to and from their school, a closed environment, where in each environment there will be no control of family members, visits from their extended families, and friends.
Those who will be at risk of contracting the virus in the school environment will be first the older adults, the older teachers, the older cafeteria and administrative personnel, the bus drivers, and custodial people. Then next at risk of contracting the COVID infection are older teenagers, the high schoolers, then the 13-15 yos, in middle school. The elementary school children, according to current stats, those under 10 yo, will be least likely to contract it or die from it.
Is it reasonable to think no adult or child will contract or fall seriously ill or even die during this school year along the Coast? If not, then can we ask the question as to how many adult or children’s deaths it will take to shut down the schools as a venue in which COVID can be contracted? One? Or more than one? If your child’s teacher contracts COVID and is hospitalized and/or dies, will you keep your child in school? Or, by protocol, the class quarantines for 14 days and returns. If as a teacher one of your students is hospitalized with COVID will you continue to teach? Are the administrators operating on the unspoken assumption that the price for completing a school year is accepting the serious illness, or death of a teacher, or child? We should hope not.
School hasn’t opened in Florida and last week Saturday a healthy 9 year old girl died from coronavirus, making her the 5th minor to die in Florida.
The law of averages in this new experiment says, in the current viral environment, persons working in the school building, mixing, returning to their families and mixing there, then returning to school and mixing, will be at a higher risk of contracting the virus than if mixing was not allowed. If every student dons a mask AND keeps it on, then the risk of contracting the disease is lower. But how many of us believe kids of any age will continue to wear the mask? Fatigue will cause them to lift it, take it off temporarily, with the teacher having to constantly surveillance mask compliance. Such a distraction. As of this writing high schools are planning to return with the protocol to allow no masks while in class. Masks are to be worn when not six feet apart.
A parent reports that St. Martin’s Middle School is not giving parents an option for online learning, mandating in-person schooling. The administration is demanding parents sign a death waiver for their child that absolves the school of liability. This implies the administration admits the school environment is not yet as safe as it should be. I didn’t think one could sign away their rights? Such a waiver implies an admission by school administrators that the school environment is not yet safe to the degree that your child might die as a result of attending.
There are various reasons administrators, some teachers, parents, and students, wish to return to school; there’s only one that moves them to delay. Some parents are motivated in their self-interest to send their children to school as it facilitates their returning to work, or, I’ve heard, keeps the kids out of the house. Others are motivated by the sincere desire to continue their children’s education uninterrupted regardless. These motivators shouldn’t supersede rational decision-making in the best interests of teachers, administrators, and children.
The argument that European countries are doing well with in-person schooling, and we will too, may be premature. To make this comparison is risky and makes assumptions that are non-existent here. For example, the US ranks 33 out of 36 countries in infant mortality. What makes us think our in-person schooling will be comparable to Spain, Ireland, Germany, and France, when they rank 8, 10, 12, and 19 respectively in infant mortality? They’ve been wearing masks since day one; they have a collective mindset, where we have an individualistic mindset. They prioritize the community, while we prioritize the individual. In a pandemic, individuals caring for the herd, is preferable than individuals caring for themselves at the expense of the herd.
My wife’s brother lives in Switzerland. He has daughters 9, and 5, and reports they reopened the schools but closed them after two and half weeks because the children were continually removing their masks due to breathing complaints and showing them to friends and teachers. It’s not surprising that small children lack understanding of contagious infections and what prevention is about? I hope I’m wrong, but I fear our teachers are in for a new and loathsome experience.
We have the technology to allow children to temporarily continue their education at home. We should take advantage of it. This isn’t going to last forever and things, the risk factors, will look more favorable this time next year. While online learning is not the best approach in educating our children, so the experts say, it is hard to argue that it is not the safest. The parents of the child who dies from COVID this school year, or the family of the teacher who succumbs to the virus, will regret having started the new school year under these historic and high risk circumstances. But it will be too late.
Since we know that we contract COVID by breathing the same air that is exhaled by an infected person, and since we are in the midst, maybe the peak, of viral activity in our community at 1000 new cases per week, and 20 – 40% asymptomatic, it would seem prudent to at least delay the school opening until the viral activity significantly subsides, or to postpone it altogether in light of the almost certain upsurge in viral activity that is sure to come this winter and even more likely to disrupt or stop the educational curriculum.
It’s a tough decision no doubt, but for the sake and safety of our children, and the adults who teach them, let’s be wise and postpone in-person school and conduct online education instead – at least until the law of averages is on our side. Regardless, let's hope for the best.