The looming school reopening nightmare

The looming school reopening nightmare

The tortured plan to open schools in the fall should convince parents to homeschool if at all possible. 

Kids who don’t like going to school in California – and there are plenty of them – are going to be absolutely miserable when schools reopen in 3 or so months. According to Governor Gavin Newsom’s just released general guidelines, students will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken upon entering the school, then sit in classrooms where desks will be spaced six feet apart. Lunch offers no respite, as kids will be forced to eat in the classroom. (Interestingly, no mention was made as to how to eat or drink with a mask covering one’s mouth.) More specific guidance will be released by the state shortly.

The Los Angeles County guidelines, also released last week, contain other restrictions, including one-way hallways, 16 kids maximum in a class, and a staggered school day which would include at-home learning, with students coming to school in shifts. To give the kiddos a break, they will each be given a ball which they can play with at recess…by themselves. Congregating on an athletic field is most definitely a no-no.

It’s worth noting that while the state and county have issued guidelines, it is up to the individual school district which, if any, to adopt. As such, the California Teachers Association is prepping for war. As Mike Antonucci notes, any school district modifications will only happen via collective bargaining with the local teachers union.

It would be best for all concerned to shun the guidelines. Can you imagine a group of squirrely kindergartners actually wearing masks for several hours, sitting meekly in a classroom six feet apart, day-in and day-out? A few may adapt, but for many it will be traumatic. In fact, it is abusive and totally unnecessary. According to CDC data, as of May 28th, there have been 11 deaths of 5-14 year-olds due to Covid-19. Light stuff compared the number of children who die in traffic deaths. In 2017, 675 children 12 years old and younger died in motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 116,000 were injured. Other than wearing a seat belt, there have been no proposed draconian guidelines to keep children safe.

Also, per the Wall Street Journal, “The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity projects that children under 15 are 6.83 to 20.07 times more likely to die of the flu or pneumonia than coronavirus—assuming 150,000 Covid-19 fatalities in the U.S. this year—and 128 times more likely to die of an accident.”

Additionally, between 2007 and 2017 the suicide rate for 10-14 year-olds nearly tripled, according to the CDC. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, finds that suicides are related to the school calendar, especially for boys, who kill themselves 95 percent more during the school year than in the summer. Gray suggests that increased stress over school is the cause. With all the new mandates – masks, social distancing, no play – what little joy there was in institutional schooling will evaporate. As such, the suicide rate will most likely increase.

The good news is that many families have discovered the joy of spending more time together. Seagal Hagege, a mother of three in Irvine, said her kids, ages 8, 7 and 4, “have become better behaved, kinder to one another and more independent” since the quarantine began. She’s hardly an outlier. A Real Clear Opinion Research poll showed that 40 percent of families are more likely to homeschool or virtual school after experiencing the lockdown. Also, an EdChoice survey found that 52 percent of parents have a more favorable opinion of homeschooling since their child’s school was shuttered.

While homeschooling is probably the best scenario, if kids are to go to a public school, they should be able to do so with a minimum of restrictions. The prevalence of child-to-adult transmission is debatable, but either way, young and otherwise healthy teachers should have no fear. Older teachers and those with certain pulmonary conditions may need to go on leave, retire, or work with students digitally. What we need to do is constantly track data, and use a scalpel to tweak policy when necessary. The current sledgehammer method is harmful to all stakeholders. But then again, if the heavy-handed state and county mandates are convincing more parents to homeschool, maybe the education establishment should keep on pounding away.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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