The proposal to reopen schools for the upcoming academic year is raising numerous concerns and questions.
In-person learning has been prohibited for the past few months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Virtual instruction has proven challenging, particularly for parents and guardians of younger children who need to remain home.
With infection statistics improving in various regions of the country, many people want schools to reopen this fall. They believe safety protocols will provide sufficient measures to keep everyone healthy.
President Donald Trump has been a leading advocate for reopening schools. He threatened to cut funding if education officials did not comply with his demands.
“President Trump pressured the government’s top public health experts on [July 8] to water down recommendations for how the nation’s schools could reopen safely this fall and threatened to cut federal funding for districts that defied his demand to resume classes in person,” according to a story published July 8 by the New York Times. “Once again rejecting the advice of the specialists who work for him, Mr. Trump dismissed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s very tough & expensive guidelines,’ which he said asked schools ‘to do very impractical things.’ Within hours, the White House announced that the agency would issue new recommendations in the days to come.”
However, parents and teachers across the country worry about the consequences of reopening schools at this stage in the pandemic. Will infection rates suddenly spike? Do some areas have adequate resources to properly test individuals? Are we setting ourselves up for a substantial increase in the number of people who becoming infected with the coronavirus and develop COVID-19?
While it’s still early in the process, medical research indicates that children are at a lower risk of either becoming ill or of spreading the coronavirus. Populated by younger students, this suggests that elementary schools may be safer to reopen.
But health authorities have warned against drawing conclusions with such scant evidence. There is so much about this virus that we don’t yet know, and gaining sufficient knowledge to make more informed decisions could take years.
And schools need to consider not just the risks posed to their students. Teachers, staff members and administrators face perils if they become infected.
Even if children and adults attending schools don’t develop COVID-19 themselves, they may pass the coronavirus on to others who will. Wearing masks and observing social distancing rules are essential practices we all must accept. But will these measures be enough to protect people spending hours a day with each other in the confined spaces of schools?
There’s no doubt that many people would like to see their schools reopen when the new sessions begin later this year. Parents and guardians have often had to alter their lives to be able to care for their children at home while school buildings have been closed. Resuming some semblance of normalcy is very inviting.
However, we’re not out of the woods yet. Tremendous risks remain if schools in some parts of the nation bring students, teachers and staff members back.
Pressure from Washington to see all schools reopen is unwise. Districts need flexibility to assess conditions in their areas to determine if reopening is safe. We’re likely looking at maintaining the status quo for the foreseeable future.