This evening I went back to my high school to tell school board members what I thought of administration’s reopening plan during the global pandemic.
McKeesport Area School Directors have not voted on the proposal yet.
So I gathered my thoughts, put on my mask and went to the work session meeting.
This is what I said:
“Thank you for allowing me to address you this evening. I appreciate all the time and effort you put forward to lead the McKeesport Area School District and do what’s best for students, staff, and families.
I am a life-long resident of this community. Most of my family graduated from this school as did my brother and I. Before I got a job as a teacher at a neighboring district, I subbed here in the high school for years. My daughter has attended the district for the past 6 years and has received a first rate education so far.
However, I am very concerned with Superintendent Dr. Mark Holtzman’s proposed plan to reopen schools. He would have students attend school buildings in-person for half days and do virtual instruction for the other half.
This is not a safe plan for students, staff and families. I ask you to reconsider and move to a reopening plan that begins with all students engaged in distance learning.
The reason is simple. New cases of COVID-19 are spiking throughout Allegheny County. Along with Philadelphia – where students will be getting 100% virtual instruction – we have some of the highest numbers of new cases in the state.
The largest district in Allegheny County – Pittsburgh Public Schools – has already decided to start with all virtual classes as have nearby East Allegheny, Woodland Hills and Wilkinsburg districts. We should do the same.
Safety has to be the primary consideration in reopening plans during a global pandemic. Maslow tells us kids cannot learn effectively unless their bedrock needs such as safety are met.
I appreciate Dr. Holtzman’s concerns about academic loss from distance learning – and under normal circumstances I would agree with him. However, these are not normal circumstances. The kind of academics he is proposing will not be as effective as he seems to believe.
Kids would have roughly 20 minute classes. As a classroom teacher, I know that little more will get done than taking role and getting kids ready to start. I am glad Dr. Holtzman reconsidered his original plan. which would have allowed students to forgo masks in the classroom and congregate only 3 feet apart. He is right to increase precautions with mandatory masks and 6 feet social distancing. But let’s be honest. If you think students will abide by them, you are engaged in magical thinking. Moreover, these precautions will inevitably have a negative effect on learning. Screen-to-screen instruction is less effective than face-to-face instruction, yes. But Mask-to-mask is NOT face-to-face. We may achieve more academically keeping kids online than trying to instruct through plague conditions.
But even if I’m wrong about that, it’s simply not worth it.
No academics is worth the death or debilitating illness of a child, family member or teacher.
Kids don’t learn well when their teachers are in quarantine. There are few accommodations made for special needs students on a ventilator. Childcare is the least of your worries if you survive the virus but are left with a lifelong disability as a result.
If we invite kids back into the classroom, we invite COVID-19 as well. If the virus is present in the community – as county data indicates – it will get into our schools where even the best precautions will not stop it from spreading and being brought home to families.
There is significant evidence that even the youngest kids can and do get sick. And those 10 or older are just as susceptible and can spread the disease at least as easily as adults.
Moreover, the CDC reports that African Americans and other people of color are hospitalized from COVID-19 four to five times more often than white people. What are we saying to our black and brown brothers and sisters if we value their health so cheaply. Don’t their lives matter?
And for those who respond that only a certain percentage of children and adults will die, which members of your family are you willing to sacrifice?
Whose lives are you willing to bet and do you really have the authority to play God?
We’re talking about human life here.
Speaking of which, let’s not forget our teachers and school staff.
Parents at least get a choice whether to send their kids to school in-person or opt for a cyber option. Dr. Holzman’s plan gives no such choice to staff. It does little to protect them from exposure to the virus. If you approve it, you are demanding staff decide between their employment and the possibility that they may take the Coronavirus home to their own children and families.
I have had some amazing teachers in this district who changed my life and made me the person I am today. My daughter loves her teachers. Approving this plan would be a slap in their faces.
Look, I know this is a tough decision. You are being asked to shoulder an incredible burden, but we are relying on you to make the best decision for all of us.
Please do not approve Dr. Holtzman’s reopening plan. Instead have all remote instruction until there have been no new cases in the county for a full two weeks.
Only then will it be safe to reopen school buildings.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Holtzman responded:
“I’d like to respond to a couple of those statements if you wouldn’t mind.
First of all, it’s not Mark Holtzman’s plan. It’s the McKeesport Area School District’s plan. I worked with my administration tirelessly to make those efforts happen. I’m very proud of the efforts that we made. The time and effort that our administration put in.
I think moving forward looking at the big picture there is a virtual option for families so you are welcome to utilize or exercise that opportunity.
Unfortunately we are commissioned to make a very difficult decision for what’s the betterment of all children and providing options for those families that choose to use virtual learning as a platform is available to yourself, your family and anybody else’s family that is interested.
To say that it’s not fair for one person such as yourself or myself to make a decision to totally not have school in-person, I don’t know is the right decision as well. So I think we’re in the middle of this discussion where I think the best decision is not always the easiest decision.
We’re very comfortable with the proposal that we’re making and we hope that you can find the decision that is within those couple options that is in the best interest of your family.”
(My comments begin at 16:27. The audio is a bit muffled because I kept my mask on while speaking.)
(Dr. Holtzman’s response begins at 23:13)
The school board is set to vote on the reopening plan next week at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 pm at the high school.
I still hope school directors vote to begin the year with virtual classes.
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