It’s okay if a few children die to start up the economy.
That is literally the opinion being offered by media influencers and policymakers as Coronavirus social distancing efforts continue passed the 30-day mark.
In the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve closed down all nonessential businesses while people self quarantine at home waiting for the curve of infection to plateau and then drop off. Medical experts tell us this is the only way to ensure there are enough ventilators and hospital beds for those who get sick.
As it is, more than 700,000 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 and 38,000 have died – more than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Oklahoma City bombing – combined. In fact, the United States has the highest number of Coronavirus deaths in the world.
Yet there is a concerted effort by the Trump Administration and plutocrats everywhere to get business back up and running. And to do that, they need the schools to reopen so parents can return to work.
They literally want to reopen schools as soon as possible – even if it isn’t 100% safe.
And if that means students, teachers and parents die, at least their sacrifices will have been worth it.
“Schools are a very appetizing opportunity,” said Dr. Mehmet Oz as a guest on Fox News’ Sean Hannity show.
“I just saw a nice piece in [British medical journal] The Lancet arguing the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3%, in terms of total mortality. Any, you know, any life is a life lost, but … that might be a tradeoff some folks would consider.”
Dr. Oz walked back the comment after popular backlash, but I believed him the first time. Many people would find that acceptable.
Dr. Phil McGraw (who unlike Dr. Oz is not a licensed doctor) said the following on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
“The fact of the matter is, the longer this lockdown goes on, the more vulnerable people get. And it’s like there’s a tipping point. There’s a point at which people start having enough problems in lockdown that it will actually create more destruction and actually more deaths across time than the actual virus will itself.”
He then compared coronavirus deaths to deaths from smoking, swimming pools and car crashes – which critics pointed out result from mostly voluntary behavior.
Once again, Dr. Phil walked back his comments after public outrage. And once again, I saw where he was coming from – because it’s clear where these celebrity talking heads are getting their information.
You find the same opinion tucked into many otherwise informative articles about the virus and education.
Education Next published a piece by Walton Family Foundation advisor and American Enterprise Institute fellow John Bailey with this precious little nugget tucked in its middle:
“Currently, the public health benefits of school closures and home quarantining outweigh the costs. But at what point does that equation flip? When do the economic, societal, and educational costs outweigh the public health benefits of these aggressive social distancing actions?”
The rich need the poor to get back to work. And they’re willing to put our lives on the line to do it.
What’s worse, they’re willing to put our children’s lives on the line.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to risk my daughter’s life so that the stock market can open back up.
As a public school teacher, I’m not willing to bet my students lives so that the airlines and cruise industry can get back in the green.
Nor am I willing to gamble with my own life even if it means the NBA, NFL and MLB can start playing games and Hollywood can start premiering first run movies again.
There’s still so much we don’t know about COVID-19.
Initial reports concluded that older people were more susceptible to it, but as infections have played out worldwide, we’ve seen that 40% of patients are between 20-50 years of age. Children seem mostly asymptomatic. However, many immunologists suspect they are acting as carriers spreading the virus to the older people with whom they come into contact.
Children have a more difficult time with the constant hand washing and separating themselves at least 6 feet apart recommended by health experts. This is one of the justifications for closing schools in the first place. If we reopen schools too quickly, it could jumpstart another wave of infections.
In fact, that’s exactly what the Imperial College of London found in its own modeling study on likely U.S. and U.K. outcomes.
School closures can be effective to help suppress the transmission rates and flatten the curve, the report concluded, IF CONTINUED OVER FIVE MONTHS.
That’s a long time. But it gets worse.
In the absences of mass vaccinations – which may be as much as two years away – the study found the virus is likely to rebound for a second and third wave.
So when would it be safe to reopen schools?
Honestly, no one really knows.
Former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a more optimistic answer in the “National Coronavirus Response: Roadmap to Reopening.”
The report maintains the need to continue social distancing including school closures until cases peak and we see sustained declines in new cases for 14 days.
That seems to be a fair minimum standard.
However, we are not there yet. The death toll continues to rise in the US and may continue to do so for some time yet.
Despite the science, every state has a different date in mind for when schools will reopen.
Since the beginning of April,a total of 21 state departments of education (including Pennsylvania’s) have decided to keep schools closed for the remainder of the academic year until at least August or September. Six states plus Washington, D.C., still have plans to reopen their schools before the end of the month.
Beyond the question of WHEN to reopen schools is the even more complicated one of HOW or IF.
President and chief executive of the National Association of State Boards of Education Robert Hull said administrators across the country are asking not how – but if – schools will reopen in the fall.
“Everybody says we hope we return to normal,” Hull said. “It’s not going to return to normal anytime soon because the new normal is going to be different.”
Multiple possibilities are being considered.
A major factor will be how well districts can test incoming students for infection.
The best solution would be quick and cheap Coronavirus screenings. If we could mass produce such tests and distribute them to schools or have the results be a precondition to coming to school, things might be able to run pretty much as normal.
If US schools all had digital thermometers (as they do in Singapore), students temperatures could be taken before letting them in to the building. Anyone running a fever could be sent home.
Some policymakers are even considering spot checking students throughout the day with thermometers and using video cameras to trace the path of any students running a temperature to tell who they may have come into contact with before being identified. However, this seems pretty disruptive to me and – especially in the younger grades – might terrify students and make them conversely feel less safe in school because of the very efforts done to ensure their safety.
In all likelihood, policymakers see to think schools will probably have to run while engaging in some sort of social distancing. And that’s not easy. Nearly everything from the way the academic day is organized to the maturity level of most students goes against this need.
One thought provoking proposal is reducing class size to no more than 10 students.
This would also have educational benefits allowing teachers the ability to give more one-on-one instruction. However, most classes are double or triple this size now. Few school buildings are large enough to double or triple the number of classrooms needed at the same time.
One solution to this is that children could attend on alternate days or on a half day basis – one group in the morning, another in the afternoon. The drawback is that this would reduce the hours students are in class. Lessons would either have to be cut down to essentials or some part of assignments may have to go online.
This might also narrow the curriculum so that the arts, music, and other subjects would be eliminated. Gym classes would probably have to be cancelled and lunches might have to be in the classroom, itself, instead of allowing large groups of students to congregate in the cafeteria.
Just ensuring that students aren’t all in the hallway at the same time would be a challenge. Class dismissals might be staggered or perhaps the teachers would move from room-to-room while the students stay put.
Moreover, the simple act of busing students to-and-from school is likewise complicated. If students sit further apart on the bus, that means each district needs either more buses at the same time or double the time to transport students at arrival and dismissal.
None of this would be cheap. It could necessitate more money on transportation, support staff and teachers. In a country where education budgets haven’t yet recovered from the Great Recession of George W. Bush, reopening schools safely would require an influx of cash.
But without it, the economy cannot get back under way.
When schools closed in March, many districts switched to some kind of distance learning. Teachers put assignments on-line and even teach through Internet meeting sites like ZOOM. Continuing this in some form – for part or all of the day – is also being considered. However, it causes as many problems as it solves.
Parents need to be able to get back to work. Many can’t stay at home taking care of their children indefinitely. And they can’t leave their kids to their own devices while trying to learn via computer, device or app.
Moreover, these cyber schooling efforts come with educational drawbacks. Just about every educational expert acknowledges that learning in-person is preferable. Students with special needs are particularly at risk because many of their individual education plans (IEPs) cannot be met remotely. And even though efforts have been made to help impoverished students gain access to the necessary technology and Internet access, the problem has by no means been universally solved. Not to mention privacy concerns with student data being pirated by unscrupulous ed tech companies.
Another issue is high stakes standardized testing.
With the Coronavirus crisis, the tests were cancelled this year – and no one has really missed them.
If lessons have to be cut to essentials, standardized testing and the need for endless test prep should be the first things to go. In fact, students, educators, parents and college professors will tell you how useless these assessments are. They reflect basic economic inequalities and enforce them by tying education funding to the test scores.
Poor kids score badly and rich kids score well, so the funding becomes a reward for the privileged and a punishment for the underprivileged.
That’s why it’s laughable when Hull laments “issues of equity” including how to measure what students are learning and how to help those who have fallen behind.
Equity is a matter of funding and opportunities – not test scores. Regardless of the problems with reopening schools, we could solve a long standing issue by erasing high stakes testing from the academic map.
But that’s been the elephant in the classroom for a long time.
Economic interests have trumped academic ones for decades.
Will we continue to value money over children? Will we pave the post-Coronavirus future over the bodies of sick children and adults?
Like any crisis, COVID-19 is another opportunity to get things right.
Here’s hoping we have our priorities straight this time.
Here’s hoping schools stay closed until we’re certain reopening them won’t endanger students, teachers and the community.
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