It indicated that he didn’t pass the buck but accepted responsibility for the way the country was run.
What does it say on your desk, Gov. Tom Wolf?
Your latest Tweets don’t fill Pennsylvania residents with confidence:
“There are widespread rumors that I will soon be announcing a statewide school building closure or cancelling classes this fall. I want to be clear: I am not closing school buildings or cancelling classes.”
“School governing boards and administrators will determine if school buildings reopen and if classes resume in person, remotely, or a combination of the two. The best way to find out about these local decisions is to contact your school’s governing board or administration.”
Well, that’s two things you now have in common with President Donald Trump.
As chief executive of the state, you had an obligation to do that.
It’s a crying shame that many in government have politicized every aspect of this disaster and the response to it.
I know you have taken a lot of criticism from Republicans trying to score points off your quick and sound judgement in this matter. They call you a tyrant because you did what every previous governor has done during a statewide disaster – you made decisions to safeguard lives.
Nothing has changed. If anything, there are significantly more cases reported every day now than in March.
If schools needed to be closed to in-person classes and education needed to be conducted on-line back then, that is still true today.
Perhaps this doesn’t have to be statewide. Perhaps it can be decided county-by-county. But you need to work collaboratively with county officials and school boards to coordinate the response to the virus.
(1) Open schools completely to in-person learning with safety precautions
(2) Keep classes entirely on-line as they were in April and May
(3) Offer some kind of hybrid of the two
Many schools are opting for this hybrid model.
This means reopening to in-person classes part of the time and on-line learning for the rest.
There are many ways to do this.
In my home district of McKeesport, this means having half of the students attend in the morning and the other half in the afternoon with the balance of their class work being done via the Internet.
In Steel Valley, the district where I work as a middle school teacher, this means half of the students attending full days on Mondays and Tuesdays, half on Thursdays and Fridays and the building is deep cleaned while students are taught completely on-line on Wednesdays.
In either case, parents can opt-in to an entirely virtual plan, but it’s expected that most adults would choose the hybrid model with its partial in-person classes for their children.
The hybrid model, then, is tantamount to putting children, teachers and families at risk for a reduced amount of time.
Why take the risk? On the premise that in-person instruction is more robust than on-line learning. Students learn more in the classroom from educators who are physically present than they do on the Internet.
There is significant evidence to back that up. However, this premise ignores the fact that invasive but necessary safety measures like wearing masks and practicing social distancing throughout the day will inevitably have negative effects on learning.
Moving into Phase 1 would require a “Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases over a 14-day period.” Moving to Phase 2 would require a “Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases for at least 14 days after entering Phase 1.”
No state has experienced a “downward trajectory” for COVID-19 cases for 28 straight days. In most states, cases are increasing.
That document suggested several expensive and difficult safety measures such as broad testing of students and faculty and contact tracing to find people exposed to an infected student or teacher – none of which is being done locally.
However, no matter how you look at it, reopening school buildings – even with a hybrid approach – increases risk significantly.
If school buildings are reopened with students and staff coming and going – even at a reduced rate through a hybrid plan – one would expect the virus already present in the community to gain access to our schools where it would be further spread to different segments of the community.
Schools are great meeting points. They are where local neighborhoods connect, learn, grow and share. Reopening them in a physical fashion allows for greater sharing of any easily communicable diseases in the area.
So exactly how communicable is COVID-19?
It’s often compared to influenza which infects millions of people every year yet these outbreaks rarely close schools.
Only about 0.1 percent of the people who got the flu in the US last year died of it, according to the CDC. Yet about 5.2 percent of those who came down with COVID-19 have died, based on the reported totals of cases and deaths.
During the 2018-19 flu season, about 34,000 people in the US died, according to the CDC. So far, 143,193 people have died of COVID-19 in the US, as of July 23.
Some say that even given such statistics, children are less susceptible than adults.
However, the virus was only discovered in 2019. So little is known about it – for instance, the low percentage of cases in children may be because schools were closed in April and May before many kids were exposed to it.
A recent South Korean study – the most in depth of its kind to examine how the virus affects children – found that it is especially active in older kids.
“For people who lived with parents between the ages of 10 and 19, 18.6% tested positive for the virus within about 10 days after the initial case was detected — the highest rate of transmission among the groups studied. Children younger than 10 spread the virus at the lowest rate, though researchers warned that could change when schools reopen,” wrote Stephen Stapczynski for Bloomberg News.
“So long as children are not just a complete dead end – incapable of passing the virus on, which does not seem to be the case – putting them together in schools, having them mix with teachers and other students will provide additional opportunities for the virus to move from person to person,” he said.
Do such facts represent an acceptable risk for opening schools – even with a hybrid model?
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says it does.
She said, “there’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”
However, if even .02% of public school students were likely to die if school buildings were reopened, that’s 11,320 children!
Are we willing to risk the lives of tens of thousands – perhaps more – children on the unproven promise of a slight improvement in academics?
And keep in mind that doesn’t even take into account the cost to adults.
According to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 1 in 4 teachers in the U.S. – roughly 1.5 million people – are at increased risk for complications if they become infected with the Coronavirus. This includes educators over the age of 65 and those – like myself – with a pre-existing health condition that makes them more vulnerable.
According to the CDC, death from COVID-19 is significantly more common in older adults. Though the median age of U.S. teachers is 42.4 years, nearly 19 percent of teachers are 55 and older, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.
Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease also increase one’s risk for serious illness from the virus. The CDC warns that roughly 60 percent of American adults have at least one chronic medical condition, and about 40 percent have two or more.
The situation is even more dire when we look at parents and grandparents in students’ homes. The KFF issued a report in July concluding that 3.3 million adults 65 or older live in a household with school-age children.
And let’s not forget the racial component.
Most minorities are more susceptible to COVID-19 because of the higher rates of social inequality they are forced to live under.
According to the CDC, Native Americans and Black people are hospitalized from the Coronavirus five times more often than White people. Hispanic and Latino people are hospitalized four times more often than White people.
Physically reopening school buildings in communities that serve large populations of people of color, then, invites greater risk than in predominantly white communities.
In any case, though, reopening school buildings – even under a hybrid model – significantly increases the risk for all the people living there.
So in summary, it is clear that the three basic options for reopening schools each offer different levels of risk.
A full reopening of schools even with safety precautions brings the highest risk. However, the hybrid model also brings significant danger to students, teachers and families – even if somewhat less than full reopening.
Distance learning has the lowest risk of all. It keeps most children physically separate from each other and thus limits exposure to the virus to the greatest extent. Likewise, it limits jeopardy for educators and other adults because teachers would mostly come into contact with children through the internet and parents would not be further complicated through potential viral contacts of their children.
From an academic standpoint, distance learning certainly has its drawbacks compared with face-to-face learning. But compared with mask-to-mask learning, virtual instruction may actually be preferable.
In any case, increased risk of death or debilitating disease has a chilling effect on learning for all involved.
In most communities – perhaps all – a decision on school reopening that balances safety with academics would lean toward distance learning above anything else.
Even if on-line learning turns out to be less effective than that provided in the hybrid model, any deficiencies can be targeted and ameliorated once the pandemic ends.
As yet, death admits of no such remedies.
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Teaching has been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. Every day I get to help kids become the people they want to be. I get to introduce them to a world of reading where voices long past get to speak to each of them individually. I get to show them how to participate in a conversation that’s been raging for millennia.
After 17 years in the classroom, years of helping kids learn how to read and write, years of listening to their needs and worries, years of helping them overcome their anxieties and fears, years of advice, counsel and friendship – is this all I’m worth to the community?
I chaperoned field trips with school directors and their children, I’ve taught board members kids and sat across from the adults at parent-teacher meetings regaling them with tales of mischief and academic triumphs. Will they now callously decide that I need to put my life at risk or else step down?
How many times did I joke and laugh with administrators, how many times did I try my best to do what they asked, how many times did I go above and beyond – and now have they no qualms about making my wife a widow and forcing my daughter to navigate the rest of her childhood without her daddy?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
A sane society wouldn’t reopen school buildings when Coronavirus cases are spiking. A rational country wouldn’t politicize safety precautions, undermine scientists and disparage facts. It would pay people to stay home, suspend rent payments, provide everyone with personal protective equipment (PPE) and universal healthcare.
As a parent of a child in the district and a teacher in a neighboring district, I find the plan you put forward to be absolutely terrifying. It is badly reasoned, based on unproven facts, and takes unnecessary risks with students and staff.
In short, you propose reducing social distancing by half, requiring students to wear masks only occasionally, having zero temperature screenings and keeping schools open when students, staff and/or family get sick.
This is unacceptable.
And given that you said all superintendents in Allegheny County are meeting weekly to discuss reopening, my concern about McKeesport’s plan extends to all other local districts working under similar miscalculations.
Be assured I will send my concerns to the email hotline you provided because it was impossible to have public meetings to discuss this matter. Which brings me to my first concern – how can it be unsafe to meet in-person with the public to discuss reopening schools yet still be safe to open them for our kids?
I am an alumni of McKeesport. So is my wife, my brother and most of the people in my family. I’ve lived here my whole life.
My daughter is set to enter 6th grade this year. Up to this point I have been extremely happy with the education she has received in the district.
I am thankful that you’ve decided to give parents the option of virtual learning for their kids if they do not feel it is safe for them to return to school buildings, but your reopening plan will have impacts far beyond our individual households. A spike in COVID-19 throughout the community due to a bad school reopening plan will not be in anyone’s interests.
You say you’re relying on facts as provided by the the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and health departments of Allegheny, Chester and Bucks County. However, almost everything you cite on the video is from one source – Bucks County.
Frankly, I do not feel comfortable basing almost our entire reopening plan on data provided by one county in the Commonwealth that may or may not have done a good job handling this pandemic.
We need to base our plan on county specific data from Western Pennsylvania and guidelines for the entire state.
In short, the plans provided by Bucks County are reckless and based on sketchy facts.
For instance, in the video you said people only get COVID-19 if they have been within 6 feet of someone not wearing a mask for 15 minutes consecutively. That or there has to be an exchange of fluid – someone sneezing, spraying spittle, etc.
I am extremely upset that you plan to reduce social distancing in district schools from 6 feet to between 3 and 4 feet.
You again cite Bucks County to justify the position.
“…SARS-CoV-2 is spread most commonly through large respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. A minimum three-foot distance is clearly associated with significant reductions in infection via respiratory droplets, as most droplets do not travel more than 3 feet due to gravity. This is the current standard used by the World Health Organization (WHO) successfully in many countries throughout the world today.”
While it is nice to be assured that respiratory droplets don’t travel beyond three feet, experience tells us otherwise. It shouldn’t take much imagination or memory to recall a time when one of your own droplets traveled further in a moment of excitement. As a classroom teacher, I can tell you this happens often. When kids get excited, teachers better back up.
Be honest. This has nothing to do with Bucks County. You let slip the real reason here:
“Our classrooms are not very large – to put children 6 feet apart in school buses, classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, will be next to impossible with the overall square footage of those particular areas.”
I get it. You’re probably right. But that’s not a reason to skimp on safety. There are other alternatives to in-person classes.
Then we get to temperature screenings – a precaution you say will not be taken when students enter our buildings at the beginning of the day.
This is highly imprudent.
It takes seconds to gauge someone’s temperature with an infrared thermometer – significantly less than getting through a metal detector – something we do routinely everyday at all district schools.
Yes, there is the problem of kids getting backed up in long lines, but that is not insurmountable. Staff can at least try to keep kids separated – perhaps having a staggered start for each grade would help.
Yes, I know the absence of a temperature does not guarantee someone is not infected. But any sense of safety is good. You know the metal detectors are not 100% accurate either.
You say it is up to the parents to make sure their kids don’t come to school with a raised temperature. Now that IS unreasonable. It is unfair to put the health concerns of an entire population on one or two parents who may not comply with the expectation.
I think the bigger concern is something you didn’t mention. What do you do with a child who has a temperature? How will you send him home? Who will see to him until a parent can come and get him? And will that person be at risk of getting sick?
These are hard questions to answer, but going in ignorance of a symptomatic student is worse.
Your position on masks is one of the most problematic in your entire reopening plan.
You propose to have children wear masks on buses but not in their classes. And the reason – because it’s just too hard to make kids wear them.
This is unfair to district children and the staff who serve them.
Look. I understand it would be incredibly difficult to get kids to wear masks. But if you cannot do it, pursue a different kind of schooling. Do not have in-person classes if you cannot do so safely.
Then we come to your position on what to do if someone gets sick.
First, it is telling that both you and your advisors in Bucks County are pretty sure this WILL eventually happen.
You do not think the precautions you’re taking will stop people from getting sick. You simply find it acceptable if the number of sick people is low.
“As COVID-19 will likely be with us for an extended period of time, and given that all school districts will almost certainly have cases, we want school districts to begin treating it similarly to the way we have successfully handled other communicable diseases in our schools, including pertussis (whooping cough), measles, strep throat, mumps, influenza, and meningitis. It is our strong intention to keep all classrooms, schools, and districts open, in the event of confirmed cases of COVID-19. One closure decision can lead to a potential crippling, and precedent setting domino effect of closures…”
Moreover, we cannot prioritize keeping schools open over public health and safety concerns. But that is what you are proposing here.
“We won’t close schools if someone gets infected. It takes 6-8 days to get an accurate result from a COVID test. So that disease will have passed through and will no longer exist on any surfaces, classroom areas, people, etc. in the school by the time the COVID is confirmed. Therefore, there’s no reason to close schools. We’ll clean every inch of our classrooms on a daily basis.”
This does not mean that the danger is any less. It means that the danger may have passed by the time we know about it. How many people may be sick by then?
Mark, this is a bad plan. Let me give you a better one.
Start school this year with universal distance learning.
You already mentioned how the district will make sure all students have a one-to-one iPad initiative. You mentioned how virtual learning will be revamped to include face-to-face instruction.
Take it a step further.
Have all teachers develop their own unique distance learning initiatives.
The $660 billion federal initiative was intended to help businesses keep employees on the payroll and off unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loans will be forgiven if businesses meet certain conditions such as retaining or rehiring employees.
Since Imagine writes the Environmental Charter’s operating budget, the management company ends up paying itself for a number of services.
After the school gets funding from state, federal and community taxes (this year including bailouts from PPP and the CARES act), it pays 12 percent back to Imagine. This came to $406,000 in 2009, according to an independent financial audit.
The school also pays Imagine on a $250,000 loan that the charter operating company took out to launch the program. Payments come out to about $2,500 per month over 20 years with an interest rate of 10.524 percent.
The charter also pays Imagine rent on its building which was purchased in 2006 by Schoolhouse Finance – Imagine’s real estate arm – for $3 million.
Like the Environmental Charter, this so-called nonprofit hires a management company. In this case, it’s the infamous K12 Incorporated – a nationwide cyber charter network with a record of academic failure and financial shenanigans.
In 2016, the company reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state of California. The state claimed K12 had reported incorrect student attendance records and otherwise lied about its academic programs. The company ended up settling with the state for $2.5 million with an additional $6 million to cover the state’s investigation and K12 voided $160 million in credits it had given to the affiliated schools to cover the cost of their contracts.
Hill House offers a blended model with in-person teachers and virtual classes somewhat different than most K12 schools.
Penn Hills School Board – a duly elected body, not government appointees – outlined criticisms of the charter that do not put the entrepreneurial venture in a positive light.
Penn Hills School Board said the charter had failed to produce current student rosters, failed in record management, failed to accurately maintain student tuition payments, improperly billed the school district for special education students, failed to maintain and develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs), had poor academic growth and is under a Department of Education Corrective Action Plan setting forth 31 areas of needed improvement.
Finally, the charter school sucks away necessary funding from the authentic public school. The Penn Hills School District paid Imagine about $3 million in 2014-15. Costs increased to $12 million a year and continue to rise.
Nina Rees, executive director of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has spoken out of both sides of her mouth on the issue. She has insisted that charter schools be regarded as public schools and eligible for emergency aid – all the while advising charter schools also to apply for federal rescue funds for small businesses devastated by the pandemic.
Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, did not mince words.
“Once again, the charter sector, through the lobbying efforts of Nina Rees…worked behind the scenes to gain fiscal advantage for the privately operated schools they claim are public schools.”
ProPublica has put all the information into an easy to use search engine. Just enter a zip code and it will display all the businesses located there that received PPP loans.
This includes high tuition private prep schools like Sewickley Academy and Shady Side Academy both of which got $2 – $5 million, Winchester Thurston School which got $1 million – $2 million, and the charter schools listed above.
There is no middle ground here – nor should there be.
Even if schools try to execute some hybrid model where kids only attend classes in-person two or three days a week and go on-line for the remainder of the time, when they are in the school building everyone will be wearing masks.
Many of my students come into my class with trust issues. They’ve been let down by adults and authority figures. They aren’t about to put in their best work for just anyone. They have to know the teacher can be trusted and cares about them as individual people.
How are you supposed to generate trust when students can only see your eyes?
How can I closely observe my students from a minimum of 6 feet away?
I would suspect this will be even more profound with kids with special needs. Just because they’re in the classroom with the teacher does not mean the teacher will be able to serve them as well as under normal circumstances. This is bound to lead to increased frustration and acting out.
The most common diagnosis my middle school students have is ADHD. The most common adaptation I’m told to make to help them overcome this is to repeatedly prompt them back on task. And you don’t want to do this in a way that will draw attention to the issue. I often walk up to students and ask questions privately, or point to something on their papers.
This will not be easy when trying to avoid their physical space. Any verbal queues would be loud enough to be heard by the rest of the class.
Moreover, children are mischievous. Some may try to purposefully cough on their classmates just to get a reaction. Others could intentionally take off their masks to annoy classmates. As every teacher knows, some kids will do anything for attention. Even negative attention.
In-person teaching could easily degenerate into a game of trying to get kids to obey the rules with little to no actual instruction going on.
Are administrators and school boards really prepared to suspend students for endangering their classmates? Are parents willing to accept such punishments?
When a student gets sick, do we quarantine for two weeks all the other students who came into contact with him? When a teacher gets sick, who teaches her classes while she is in isolation? And do we keep her students home, too?
Before we can reopen schools to in-person instruction, there are a host of problems we have to solve.
We have to figure out how to get kids to and from school without crowding them together on buses. We have to arrange classes and move students safely from point A to point B within the building. We have to figure out how to safely feed them – since no one can wear a mask while they eat. We have to figure out how to adequately ventilate buildings that were in need of repair for decades prior to the crisis.
Lawmakers and policymakers don’t want to put forward the funding necessary to reduce the risks. Teachers fear they’ll be laid off if they speak out against unsafe working conditions. Parents fear they won’t be able to return to their own jobs if they have to stay home to take care of their children.
These issues can all be solved by good government. Our lawmakers need to follow the lead of nearly every other country that has lowered infection rates. We need federal relief checks so people can pay their bills without having to risk their lives working through a pandemic. We need personal protective equipment (PPE), protection from evictions, and universal healthcare so that we can weather the storm.
You don’t close schools when there are only thousands of cases and then reopen them when there are millions.
One thing to recommend on-line learning at the present time is that we know it can be done. We already tried it last school year. There were certainly major problems but we have a good idea what they are and can make changes to at least attempt to solve them.
We can do a better job ensuring all students have access to computers, devices and the Internet. We can make expectations clear and achievable and increase project based assignments. We can habituate participation, increase interactivity and offer multiple chances to do the work.
But we will not have face-to-face instruction this year. It will be mask-to-mask or screen-to-screen.
That cannot be emphasized enough.
None of the possible solutions does a perfect job overcoming the problems.
There are not enough adequate virus screenings to tell who has the disease. Nor can we screen those who have it and keep them quarantined from the rest. Nor do we have adequate PPE to reduce infection. Nor does any vaccine appear to be forthcoming.
With the exception of the last point, many other developed countries have done much better with these things and so are in a better position to reopen schools.
But we have to face facts. The United States is not in the same position. In fact, we’ve made wearing a mask a political statement instead of what it is – a public health concern.
Until we solve these issues, there will be no perfect solution for schools. We just have to choose the best of several imperfect options.
“When an individual commits an act of gross recklessness without regard to the probability that death to another is likely to result, that individual exhibits the state of mind required to uphold a conviction of manslaughter even if the individual did not intend for death to ensue.”
Lawmakers and school administrators better pay heed to this and similar nationwide decisions.
“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? That is a scenario that would only be further aggravated in the absence of some kind of liability protection that reassures school administrators that they can actually open up again… Without it, frankly that’s just not going to happen as soon as it should have.”
The Kentucky Senator went on Fox News in late April saying that such legal protections would be necessary for Republicans to even consider any new Coronavirus relief bills.
According to those who were either on the call or were knowledgeable about the conversation, the college presidents said they needed to know their institutions would not get sued if people got sick – which they thought was almost a certainty.
One way the federal government can help “is to have some kind of liability protection,” said University of Texas at El Paso president Heather Wilson, who was on the call. Wilson is a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico.
Big business is also calling for liability protection. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been asking to be freed during the pandemic from being held liable if workers, customers or others get sick on their property. Notably, a lawyer for Texas Christian University told senators such a situation is “foreseeable, perhaps inevitable.”
Is it our responsibility to make sure customers, workers, students and teachers are safe from the virus? Or is it our responsibility to make sure businesses and schools aren’t sued for taking chances with our lives?
Children, in particular, are less susceptible to COVID-19 than older people.
And while it’s true that young people have shown fewer symptoms and include the lowest numbers of deaths, this virus has been around barely more than a year. We simply don’t know much about it and its long term effects.
Researchers found few children 5-9 (the youngest included in the study) who had contracted the disease but those ages 10-19 were as likely to contract it as people ages 20-49 – and more likely than adults older than that.