Reopening Schools Too Soon Could Be a Disaster
As cities slowly reopen after months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, opening schools too quickly will result in another deadly wave of the disease and could put children, teachers, and staff at incredible risk
Children have trouble following social distance measures Kids are worse at preventative measures like constant hand washing and wearing a mask all day, putting everyone at risk.
"Kids will also be expected to refrain from many once-normal activities—hugging, sharing toys, trading food at lunchtime, and so on. K–12 students may generally be capable of doing what public-health experts ask, but not all of them, not everything, and not all the time," The Atlantic reports. Add to this the fact that many of these students have not seen their classmates in person for six or more months and the confluence of circumstances makes for a dire situation. Most children can follow the rules, most of the time. But, there will never be enough compliance to keep teachers and staff safe from the virus. While children under 10 are not particularly at risk of getting coronavirus themselves, the research is still not confirmed about how they act as spreaders of the virus. While preschool to young elementary age kids are thought to be the least careful with hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask, older kids may want to rebel and not follow the rules for their own reasons, or they may simply not understand the risk they pose to themselves, the adults who work at their school. or their own families. Reopening schools too early also means near-constant monitoring of kids, even older ones, because it's just in their nature to break the rules when they think adults are not closely watching them. With teacher and staff cuts in many school districts, this may prove impossible in low-income areas already ravaged by the pandemic. There is also the issue of different levels of compliance to pandemic measures in these students' homes. Parents who were stricter about following social distancing guidelines, sanitation, hand washing, and wearing masks are likely to mimic those behaviors when they get to school but not all children's families will have these potentially life-saving habits. If these children don't get tested, they could come to school as asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
It puts them at risk It's the adults in the schools that are likely at greater risk of getting COVID-19.
Three teachers have died since the beginning of the school year as a result of COVID-19. The teachers were in Missouri, Mississippi, and South Carolina and all relatively healthy before their schools reopened for the fall term. The total number of infected teachers across the country is still unclear, but Mississippi has reported more than 600 cases since school started back up. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “If community spread is too high as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person." While positive tests are at the same low levels as they were in Asia and Europe when schools reopened, American teachers have warned those countries had measures in place with regards to free personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, hygiene, and social distancing to minimize the risk to adults. In school districts with older buildings, the problem becomes one of inadequate ventilation, lack of windows in classrooms, and very low availability of certified school nurses. Some school districts have not even made masks mandatory, putting teachers and staff who have health issues like previous cancer diagnoses, lung problems, and autoimmune disorders at even greater risk. The early phase of the pandemic claimed the lives of dozens of teachers. The New York City Department of Education alone lost 31 teachers among 75 employees whose deaths were blamed on the coronavirus.
Teachers with their own kids are in a bad position It becomes a bigger problem when neighboring school districts have different policies.
Many teachers with their own children are concerned not just about childcare, but also logistics. For those whose kids attend school in a different district, the variations of which schools will reopen and those which will not, different days in school for those on blended schedules of in-person and virtual learning, and transportation have proven to be a nightmare. Across the U.S., the American Federation of Teachers lists 210 union members who have died. The list includes support staff and retirees as well as teachers. That means teachers with children in a different school district then theirs, some with different safety measures in place, are at even higher risk and stress levels trying to keep themselves, their students, and their own children safe. Some of the teachers who have been infected in this new school year caught the virus during their preparation days, when no children were in the building yet. That could mean some school districts are going to remain under virtual learning while others do not. For teachers with children on the opposite learning method of theirs, this is also an educational and developmental challenge. As Chalkbeat writes: "A sizable share of America’s teachers have young children. Most teachers are women, who often bear disproportionate caregiving responsibilities for children and other family members. And although many of the country’s large districts say they’re attempting to be flexible with teachers...few if any have policies that explicitly accommodate those juggling work and full-time caregiving."
Kids were just getting used to learning online Adjusting to a new system now will just derail learning and cause chaos.
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Many school systems are opening on a blended system - with students coming into the classroom on different days of the week and remotely learning other days in order to have less crowded classrooms and buildings. Having a third to half of students out of the classroom at any given time, while they learn online at home does not make for a cohesive lesson plan or classroom experience. Teachers argue that integrating assignments and charting how well students are learning the material is especially difficult in this model on top of the stress of health concerns. There will also be students who will choose to learn remotely full-time, an option offered by most school districts for parents concerned about spread of the disease. However, because most remote learning the last semester of the last school year was done on the fly, it was asynchronous, or not 'live.' Students have adjusted to that, allowing parents to help them as work and life schedules dictated. With the blended system, some students will have to learn through synchronous instruction, meaning sitting on a laptop while some students are in the classroom. Parents and teachers say this will be incredibly difficult to navigate for younger kids who may require the physical setting of the classroom in order to remain engaged for that long. There is also the issue of those families without reliable, high-speed internet access at home. Those students may have fallen behind state-mandated learning benchmarks and forcing them into a blended system may push them further behind on their remote learning days.
Many parents don't want it, even if they are exhausted from working remotely while ensuring their children are occupied and doing schoolwork virtually While parents recognize the mental health benefits of sending children back into the classroom, the looming risk of another wave of the pandemic is worrisome.
Childcare is hard on a blended schedule The logistics are tricky for families with multiple children on different schedules as well.
For single parents, parents who work hourly wage jobs that generally cannot be remote, or for essential workers in transportation and medical fields, childcare during the pandemic has already been a challenge. Women are disproportionately affected. With schools set to reopen with a combination of days in the classroom and days at home, the burden can make it impossible. For parents with multiple children the concern is that their in-classroom days or the parents' work schedules will not line up or childcare facilities may not be fully open on the days needed. At least with a fully remote learning schedule, there was flexibility from colleagues, staff, and school districts. Most districts did not require live-teaching at certain times of day so single-parent and caregiver teachers were able to work around their other duties while keeping up with the curriculum and grading students' work. . Being fully remote also meant teachers could gain better insight into students' individual home lives, how to work with parents and their schedules, students' learning preferences during the pandemic, and teach children important skills like time management and balance. Beyond these reasons, there does not seem to be high interest or ability to adhere to a blended learning schedule. In New York City, which is set to go on this type of in-person and virtual mix for the fall, 390,000 public school students opted out of the blended learning model so they could learn remote full-time. Logistics are messy, at best, when multiple children are in the same household and may be attending different schools. There is also the lack of transparency regarding health measures, air ventilation in older school buildings, and students having to deal with multiple teachers - one for in-person, one for virtual lessons. For younger students this can be jarring and difficult to get into a rhythm of learning.
This is hardest for hourly workers Low income workers are already the most at risk and more affected by the virus.
For most low-wage workers, remote work is not possible. Their communities have borne a disproportional brunt during the pandemic and so it may seem like a good idea to send their children back into the classroom at first. However many of them, often parents of color, have said they are scared about the consequences. These parents cannot afford to stay home and teach their children full-time like some, but sending them back into the classroom puts their health at risk as well. A blended schedule combining both could be impossible to navigate depending on work schedules, multiple children whose days at home or in the classroom may not line up with siblings, and childcare. Many have had elderly relatives move in to assist with childcare, but those people are being put at the highest risk if children are exposed to the virus in schools and bring it home. For other low wage workers, sending children back to school too soon means exposing themselves as cafeteria staff, bus drivers, teachers' assistants, and janitorial staff. These workers are largely not provided with proper protective gear and the lack of city or state measures in place regarding hygiene, cleaning schedules, special cleaning supplies, building ventilation, and social distancing in small spaces puts them at even more risk.
School budgets are even under more stress. They were already under strain before but could now put lives at risk, especially in poorer communities.
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For struggling school districts, budgets were already an issue in paying teachers more, maintaining facilities, and offering more robust learning programs. As NPR reported: "schools receive nearly half of their funding from state coffers. But with businesses shuttered in response to the pandemic and the unemployment rate already nearing 15% — well above its 10% peak during the Great Recession — state income and sales tax revenues are crashing." State governments, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets - forcing many to call for cuts everywhere including schools. As a result of the pandemic and needing to take measures to not have a second wave of infections, the additional costs of personal protective equipment, more thorough cleaning, partitions for desks, blended schedules, online learning software subscriptions, and technology for students - those budgets are going to be under even more strain unless some of those costs are avoided by keeping students home to learn remotely full-time until the risk is lower. For school districts with tight budgets, safety measures like extra cleaning and protective equipment cannot be compromised, which means other line items like salary increases, building improvements, and arts programs may have to be cut. Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the country's second biggest school district in Los Angeles, said: "Cuts to funding at schools will forever impact the lives of children." The harm children face from these cuts, Beutner warned, "is just as real a threat to them as is the coronavirus." The governor of California has just called for emergency cuts to the school budget.
Many disabled students were just figuring out how to adjust to online learning. Educational software tools just caught up to their needs only to be disrupted by staggered in-person learning.
The sudden change to online-only learning was already placing unfair burdens on students with physical and cognitive disabilities, but a switch to a model of some virtual learning with some in-classroom days could disrupt carefully built routines and workarounds at this point. Opening schools too soon also puts students who are immuno-compromised or have a disability that makes them vulnerable to the virus at far greater risk as well. Students often had trouble using regular laptops and education technology or software other students did both because of physical and cognitive learning disabilities. These tools were simply not made to accommodate many disabilities, but the tech world is responding and attempting to give special needs students workarounds and necessary software patches as well as modified hardware. However, some students do need in-person instruction to help with attention problems and physical limitations. Switching back and forth doesn't allow these students to develop a steady routine, one they were just getting to as full-time remote learners. It is also a logistical hassle for kids, parents, and school districts. Not only do these students need more attention while learning in-person and virtually, some require special transportation to and from school. Blended learning schedules may be a challenge in that regard. Some disabled students are also just at high-risk for illnesses in regular times, more so during the pandemic. Opening schools too soon without clear and robust safety measures could be putting them and their families at risk for a host of medical issues.