Sunday, August 14, 2022

Reopening dilemma persists in the U.S.


Eminent epidemiologists, such as Benjamin P Linas, opine that everyone’s doing school closures and reopenings wrong: “Blue states’ policies ultimately hurt children and families without controlling Covid-19,” he writes. “Red states’ schools are open, often when they should not be.”

A teacher in Des Moines prepares for students’ return in Oct. (Phil Roeder/Flickr Creative Commons)

Voxitatis reported that while many schools in Europe remain open, for the most part, many school districts, large and small, in the US have reverted to a system of all-remote learning in the wake of the most recent spike in Covid-19 infection rates, a so-called “third wave” or “dark winter.”

A notable exception is New York City, the nation’s largest school district. Schools there remain open, but parents, students, and school staff members are watching a very important number very closely: the infection rate. If it hits the apparently random number of 3 percent, schools will shut down, and as of Sunday, it was 2.57 percent and climbing.

What doesn’t help in the US, though, is the absence of clear, national guidelines for schools to reopen safely.

“Research has shown,” Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development told NPR, “that if you put social-distancing protocols in place, school is actually quite a safe environment.”

If only organizations like the OECD had spent even one minute in the classroom of a 3000-student high school to know how difficult it can be to put any protocol in place! And if only the government would give schools guidelines! As it stands, we have a mess of half-baked protocols with half-hearted adherence.

For example, at Kirkwood High School, near St Louis, Missouri, Olivia Silvey writes in The Kirkwood Call that the school district is sending mixed messages when it comes to keeping students and staff members safe from the coronavirus.

“A frantic frenzy of tweets, texts and Slack messages exploded the afternoon of Friday, October 30, when Kirkwood football forfeited the first district game against SLUH due to a positive test within our program,” she writes about her brother, the only freshman on the varsity football team:

“The email informed families if their player was a contact, requiring quarantine, or a contact of a contact, which did not. My moms received the latter email.

“Twenty-four hours later, we received a different one: my brother was required to enter a 14-day quarantine, along with the rest of the team. One day after the first, apparently false, notification could have been plenty of time for him to expose his household without anyone’s knowledge.”

She is calling on the school district in Kirkwood to make better decisions and ensure that people at the schools follow the rules:

“The data is starting to turn the other way,” she writes. “If we are going to be attending school, we need to eliminate the holes in protocol; there need to be consequences for individuals and families who put others at risk. Or, if that seems impossible: we did virtual for the first 10 weeks. We can do it again.”

According to an informal online poll attached to Ms Silvey’s op-ed, more than two-thirds of respondents at Kirkwood say they don’t feel safe returning to in-person learning at this time.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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