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“The U.S. attempt to return children to the classroom this fall has turned into a slow-motion train wreck ... ” Anne Flaherty, ABC News
Parents, teachers, and medical experts are worried about sending children back to school. People are worried about the consequences of opening schools for in-person classes while Covid-19 cases continue to climb and people increasingly refuse to follow recommended protective measures. In the rush to get back to “normal” and open up the economy, are we gambling with the safety of our children?
Contrary to what was thought earlier in this pandemic, children are not immune to this virus. Young people are getting sick and they can transmit the disease to others. Covid-19 is not just another flu bug. It is more contagious, can be harder to overcome, and can have serious long term effects. It is not limited to older individuals with other health problems. A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates 338,000 children have been infected in the United States. In the last two weeks of July 97,000 cases were reported in children.
So cramming kids into confined spaces (school buses, crowded hallways, cafeterias and poorly ventilated classrooms) is going to result in increasing the spread of the disease. Before the pandemic many schools were overcrowded and had old, inadequate facilities. Almost all schools were underfunded and were cutting non-instructional staff like school nurses, counselors, and aides. It is simply not reasonable to think that suddenly schools will be able to accomplish the social distancing, health monitoring, hand washing, smaller class sizes, and other disease control measures needed to open regular classes safely.
These fears are being confirmed in places where schools and similar activities have already opened. Despite extensive planning, and supposedly following recommended safety procedures, re-opening is not going well. Schools that have resumed in-person classes are experiencing new virus outbreaks resulting in students being quarantined and re-opening plans being abandoned
Georgia is the national petri dish for gambling with children's health. Earlier this year a summer camp in Georgia had 75% of the campers and staff (almost all of them under 18 years old) test positive for the virus. They were supposedly following all recommended control measures.
Another example is North Paulding High School in Georgia where a student posted photos of a crowded hallway with no social distancing and few masks being worn. The student was initially suspended for posting the photos but the administration had to back down. After the FIRST WEEK of school NINE students tested positive (with many more waiting results) and the school temporarily moved to online instruction.
Georgia's Cherokee County School District has 42,000 students and opened August 3rd. They have reported 59 positive COVID-19 cases and have quarantined over 1,200 students as of August 11. The district's Etowah High School has 17% of the in-person students in quarantine. According to the district administrator, 77% of students’ parents supported in-person classes. In contrast 80% of parents nationally do not favor in-person opening.
In Georgia 866 student athletes across the state have tested positive since sports practice stated in June. On August 11, the state posted its highest single-day death total of 137 fatalities. The state is averaging 60 deaths each day.
Quarantine doesn't mean the affected students are sick or even testing positive. But when one student does get sick, or tests positive, ALL the students and staff that ONE student came into contact with must be quarantined for 14 days. The rush to open schools is creating chaos rather than education for students.
Wisconsin Public Radio reports most of Wisconsin's rural schools are planning to reopen in-person classes with no mask requirements. Sixty-two percent said their districts were planning for in-person reopening with social distancing. The other 38 percent were planning for some combination of online and in-person instruction. Madison area schools originally planned to open with a combination of online and in-person classes to allow more social distancing but have since changed to only on-line instruction.
In Minnesota schools will have three options: in-person classes, full time distance learning, or some combination of both. The decision will be made by local school boards based on the number of COVID-19 cases in their area. There are other health standards including requiring masks. The two largest districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul are opening with only online classes. A number of other suburban districts are trying hybrid arrangements. Many rural districts will meet the criteria to have in-person classes.
In Minnesota Governor Walz plans to provide an additional $250 million to help with the increased costs. In Wisconsin Governor Evers is using $46.6 million in federal pandemic relief funds to provide grants for local school districts. Will this extra money be enough to handle the pandemic related costs? The national School Superintendents Association estimates school districts will need $200 billion ($490 per student) for schools to re-open safely. Using this estimate Minnesota would need $436 million and Wisconsin $427 million.
Does anyone believe the extra staff, school buses, nurses, testing kits, or money necessary to re-open safely will actually be provided? Certainly this will not happen in Wisconsin where the Republican controlled legislature is doing everything possible to defeat Governor Evers' efforts to control the virus. They have a long history of cutting funding for public schools.
Even with everyone pulling together, defeating this pandemic and safely opening the schools would be a huge task. But we live in a divided country. Now we are truly caught between a rock and a hard place. Because of the initial ineffective response to this pandemic the economy is in shambles. A key part of re-opening the economy is opening the schools. We need the full time child care services provided by schools.
Everywhere people have opened things up there has been a spike in new COVID-19 cases. There is no reason to believe opening schools will be any different. Rushing to fully open schools will risk the health, and possibly lives, of students, teachers, school staff and their families. We are gambling with the health of our children and ourselves.