Let me begin by saying I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to this question. And as this pandemic looks certain to persist through the rest of the year in the United States, it’s hard to know if anyone in this country has the answer.
The arguments to return children to school in the fall run the gamut of President Trump’s magical thinking that everything will be OK if we pretend COVID-19 isn’t a real threat, to epidemiologists and psychologists who believe the risks posed to children by not attending school are more serious than the risks COVID-19 present if they return.
In an editorial this past weekend, the New York Times called for schools to reopen in the fall.
“American children need public schools to reopen in the fall,” the editorial begins. “Reading, writing and arithmetic are not even the half of it. Kids need to learn to compete and to cooperate. They need food and friendships; books and basketball courts; time away from family and a safe place to spend it.”
The Times notes that online schooling has proven to be inadequate. As the parent of two public school children, I can agree. Teachers and administrators did their best, but the weekly assignment lists students were directed to turn in at the end of the week were not a suitable replacement for in-class instruction. And, as we read in Philadelphia, nearly half of students failed to log in even once to receive assignments.
This fall, educators have been given more time to prepare, but the target for which they must aim is not steady. We hope our area will continue to keep COVID levels low and that we will not be forced to retreat to closed workplaces, stay at home orders, etc. With much the country experiencing daily, exponential growth of COVID cases and hospitalizations, I’m not sure how long our region can hold out.
With school openings a little more than a month away, how likely are we to have a clear plan of action? And I haven’t even considered the risks any plan poses to teachers and staff, many of whom are at greater risk of serious health consequences of getting back inside a school building.
While we contemplate the choice between two courses that promise a great deal of risk, it’s hard not to look enviously at Europe and at other countries in Asia that managed to get control of the disease and will be able to return their children to school with far more certainty of their safety than we will. We had a chance to do the same and have blown it because we couldn’t keep people out of bars or required them to wear masks.
It would be great if we could pick a date in the future, say Jan. 1, 2021, when we could make concerted effort to get COVID under control and more plausibly send kids back to school. I don’t now, however, see the kind of leadership capable of making that happen. And our kids are going to pay the price.