School Staff Are the Latest Cannon Fodder in the COVID War (Video)

“The science should not stand in the way of this. When he says open, he means open and full, kids being able to attend each and every day.”

That’s the response from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday when asked during a press conference about the conundrum over re-opening schools as coronavirus cases surge in most of the United States.

The “he” is Donald Trump.

After dismissing the science, McEnany then goes on to claim “the science is on our side here.”

To open or not to open?

That is the question dominating both sides of the political spectrum.

And so far there is no unified consensus one month before many of the nation’s schools are expected to begin the new academic year.

In California, Los Angeles and San Diego schools are beginning the way they finished a month ago–with online-only instruction. 

The Orange County, Calif. Board of Education, however, voted this week to re-open schools without requiring masks or social distancing.

In Florida, Miami-Dade schools are asking parents to vote whether they prefer online, hybrid, or in-person instruction.

That would only apply, though, if the state, with over 315,000 confirmed cases, proceeds to the next re-opening phase.

Montgomery County, Md. school district explained in its draft plan it would start September with online-only classes, with in-person classes being phased in and blocked off by class periods and grades.

Students in Las Vegas, Nevada will have a hybrid system.

Atlanta, Ga.’s school board voted this week on whether to start the first quarter online.

Seattle, Wa. students are probably only going to be expected to report to school once or twice a week.

Texas teachers are drafting wills after Gov. Greg Abbott declared schools will be open for full instruction.

(Abbott revised this Friday, granting schools permission to keep campuses closed and deliver instruction remotely.)

New York City schools will only open if COVID-positive test rates remain below 5%.

New York state released a 28-page report this week detailing the reopening process, and gave districts until the end of the month to submit individual re-opening plans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated he would make a “universal decision” in the first week of August.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a “Flexible blueprint for imagining a new normal for public education, public health and our society” that emphasizes “five core pillars based on the science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not on politics or wishful thinking.”

So, the answer to whether or not your children will be returning to school this fall remains  a definite maybe.

The argument from the White House and Education Secretary Betsy Devos is that all students should return to school for in-person instruction despite the pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements are “very tough and expensive”.

Trump threatened to rescind funding for those districts that refuse.

Devos explained, “The rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” adding that coronavirus flare-ups can be “dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.”

Except those flare-ups won’t be “on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.”

The inevitable infections will go home with students and passed onto their parents, siblings, and grandparents.

Considering the insidiousness of asymptomatic contagion, the two-week period in which an infected individual may not be exhibiting symptoms but is nonetheless shedding the virus to others, this could mean a catastrophic spike in hospitalizations and deaths.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired back at Trump:

“That is the law, and that is the way we’re going to proceed. It’s not up to the President of the United States. The President does not have any authority to open schools. We will open the schools if it is safe to open the schools. Everybody wants the schools open.”

While it’s true Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding, congressional Republicans are currently looking for ways to attach conditions to emergency school funding in the next coronavirus relief bill.

Citing lack of funding, AFT president Randi Weingarten said there’s “no way” schools will reopen full-time, adding:

“There’s no way that you’re going to have full-time schools for all the kids and all the teachers the way we used to have it. Once we have a vaccine, I hope we can get back to that.”

Vis-a-vis the Trump/Devos suicide strategy, Weingarten argues their “reckless” approach could result in many educators exiting the profession.

She explained:

“It’s as if Trump and DeVos want to create chaos and want to jeopardize reopening. There’s no other reason why they would be this reckless, this callous, this cruel. They have, from the beginning of this pandemic to now, made this much, much, much worse for not only the 137,000 who have died and the over three million Americans who have tested positive. Not just in beginning, and the haphazard way we closed, but the haphazard way we will reopen. I fear a brain drain of people basically opting out of teaching, because they don’t want to jeopardize their own families.”

The Trump administration originally cited an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) school re-entry guidance document warning about the deleterious effects of prolonged absence from school irrespective of health risks.

This caused the AAP to re-issue its statement in conjunction with the AFT, National Education Association (NEA), and the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA), explaining:

“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

Despite Devos arguing “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” some are urging we look to other countries as evidence of the disaster re-opening to full capacity, or at all, can cause.

On May 17, Israel appeared to have defeated the virus after several weeks in which first-, second-, and third-grade students returned to classrooms.

So the Israeli government, despite advice from Hagai Levine, Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem epidemiologist and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, decided to bring everyone back.

Two weeks later, more than 244 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the education ministry, 2,026 students, teachers, and staff are infected, and 28,147 are quarantined.

The first two weeks of this month, 393 kindergartens and schools open hosting summer programs have been closed.

This week, Israel reported 1,681 new cases, its worst since the outbreak began.

On Friday, presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, released his five-point plan for school re-opening that includes:

  1. Implementing nationwide testing and strengthening supply chains to control the virus.
  2. Setting national safety guidelines and empowering local decision making.
  3. Providing emergency funding for schools and child-care providers.
  4. Ensuring high-quality learning during the pandemic.
  5. Proposing a White House initiative for solutions to close the racial and socioeconomic educational equity gap.

So, are you sending your kids back to school?

Image credit: pursuit.unimelb.edu.au

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.