My head is spinning as I try to answer that question.
August is traditionally a very exciting, anxiety-provoking, and busy month of public school teachers. There are class lists to learn, student records to read and meetings to be held.
August is usually the month of rearranging tables and desks, unpacking and storing new materials, planning activities for the first week of school.
Elementary school teachers, in particular, spend hours thinking about how to group kids for math and reading lessons and how to set up a warm and welcoming classroom.
But this year is different.
I was in my car a lot today. Lots of errands and a long wait in the car for a COVID test. I heard lots of talk radio. And by lots, I mean about 4 hours' worth. Most of it was about the question of whether to reopen American schools.
I listened with great interest and an absolute attention to detail. This is because I am the mother of a public elementary school teacher and the grandmother of her three precious kids.
Should school open now? Can schools be safe at this point in time, at this moment in the pandemic? Will kids be safe? Will teachers be safe? Will the families of kids and teachers be safe?
I wanted to find out the answers to these vital questions, so I listened to dozens of medical experts, educational experts, epidemiologists, CDC representatives, nurses, front line doctors and various talking heads.
Here’s what I learned:
- We are very optimistic about the odds of having a safe and effective virus by spring.
- There is little chance of us having a safe and effective virus in the next two years.
- Children can safely return to classrooms as long as desks are three feet apart.
- Children aren’t desks; they won’t stay apart even if their desks start out the day that way.
- Kids are less likely to spread the virus.
- Kids are much more likely to spread the virus because many will be asymptomatic carriers.
- Kids are less likely to even get the virus in the first place.
- Our statistics on kids are so far inaccurate because the first thing the country did when the pandemic broke out was to close schools and keep kids out of the general public. Now that they’re back to mingling, they’re getting sick in numbers that are higher than adults.
My head is spinning. It’s safe, only it isn’t safe. We can do it, but we probably can’t really do it.
All I know, as the mom of a teacher and the grandmother of a kindergartener, is that what we don’t know is a boatload more than we do know at this point.
What I know as a retired teacher is that anything you predict about an elementary school classroom is not going to be true because children are designed to test the limits and push the boundaries.
I know that there is far too much confusion in the medical community, the scientific world and the experts in general for us to honestly claim that reopening our public schools is a good idea right now.
And I know that any nation that is willing to put its children at risk, AT ANY RISK, just for the sake of economics, is a nation that is completely without moral or ethical constraints.
I do NOT want my daughter to die for the sake of her students’ family incomes.