If we wanted to.
The President of these beleaguered United States has worked himself into a tizzy in the past couple of days. He’s not upset about the 132,000 Americans who have died since January. He’s furious because educational experts all over the country are hesitant about re-opening schools.
Trump and his Sec. of Education are demanding that all schools open on time this fall, with kids and teachers face to face in crowded classrooms. They are threatening to withhold money from any district that thinks it's just too dangerous to open schools in the middle of the worst global pandemic in a century.
Here, I’ll show you what I’m talking about:
Now, I’ll be brutally honest here. I agree with Trump in that first tweet. Yep, the CDC is, in fact, asking schools to do a lot of impractical things. They are suggesting a lot of very expensive things.
Things like asking teachers and children to follow the very same precautions that every single human on the face of this earth have been told to follow for the past six months. Those medical experts are telling teachers and school administrators that everyone needs to stay as far apart as possible. Everyone needs to wear a mask. And there has to be more cleaning and disinfecting. Maybe some extra testing.
Impractical? Yes. Incredibly and perhaps prohibitively expensive? Yes again.
But we could do it.
It’s not impossible.
All it would take is for the federal government to shift a few billion dollars from the bloated defense budget and put it toward Covid mitigation in schools.
All it would take is for the federal government to work together with state governments to identify local businesses with extra space now that everyone is working from home. Together, they could reach out to town libraries, community centers, churches, and other places that are just sitting there now. By using those spaces as teaching space, we could most likely create classrooms with a low enough number of students for everyone to stay 6 feet apart.
Naturally, this plan would mean that we’d need about three times as many teachers as we have now. This means that a boatload of the allocated money would go toward hiring and training a giant crew of Highly Qualified teachers. This would include specialist teachers in music, art, physical education, special education, mental health and counseling. Naturally, nursing staff would need to be tripled as well. There would need to be many additional hirings of paraprofessional staff members. And mentors and teacher trainers so that all new staff would be prepared to provide the high level of teaching that this country demands.
So, sure, all of these items should have been addressed in March when schools first closed. Alas, that was back when our leadership was insisting that the whole problem would miraculously disappear in the spring.
Better late than never, right?
The federal government should also be manufacturing and supplying millions of reusable, safe, child-sized masks, too. Masks that would address the needs of the many hearing-impaired children in our school system, who need to read lips in order to understand their teachers and classmates. Masks that would work for the many children who experience sensory issues, breathing issues, hyperactivity or anxiety disorders.
While they are at it, the government should also be manufacturing and distributing massive amounts of disinfectants, hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies. They should be paying for the additional staff who will be needed to triple the janitorial staff.
We could open our schools safely. We could protect our teachers and administrators as well as our precious children. By doing so, we’d be able to get parents back to work, businesses to slowly reopen and our economy to truly recover.
We could do it.
We lack only one small item when it comes to safely reopening our schools.
We lack the political leadership that would have allowed this country to unify around this admirable national goal. We lack anyone in a leadership position who is willing to make the difficult choices that would make a safe reopening possible.
How sad for us. Instead of that leadership, we are struggling to figure things out school-by-school while the people with the ability to help are wasting time ranting, finger pointing and wringing hands.
I’m so sad for our children.