We all want children to return to classrooms in late August to recapture a sense of normalcy so important to their maturation, our future, a state’s entire way of operating and more. And it is natural to look forward to that with hope.
Hope alone won’t get us there, though. Only our behavior in the coming weeks will determine whether students who have been robbed of a vital portion of the educational structure and a stage of irreplaceable development can get back to what they deserve.
So, listen: Wear a mask, everybody. Stay vigilant in the state’s effort to quell the spread of COVID-19. Do everything that is realistic, everything that has allowed Connecticut to make strides unsurpassed by most states, everything that has put our leaders in position to start planning for the 2020-21 school year with at least some degree of confidence, with that sense of hope.
“Maybe the hardest decision we’re going to make, and I don’t think any plan is going to be perfect,” former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday during Gov. Ned Lamont’s coronavirus press briefing. “Hopefully, we’re going to have the opportunity here in the state, and I think we will, to bring kids back, at least for a period of time. We may end up having to close the schools at some point in the fall or winter as this epidemic takes its course. But we’re going to have the opportunity to bring kids back, and even if we can bring them back for a period of time, that’s going to be exceedingly important. It’s critical for their education, their social well-being.”
If children can’t return to classrooms full time for the fall, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Let’s not screw this up for the kids, for their families, for teachers and beyond. Spare them our ignorance and stubbornness so they can flourish.
If we do our part while in a holding pattern, we’ll have children slinging backpacks over their shoulders and getting back to the most ideal ways to actually learn … about math, about science, about themselves, about the world, about each other.
I wish I had something more compelling to offer, but it’s that simple. We’re at a wait-and-see moment with this issue.
Part of my responsibility to this platform is to offer creative solutions and solid answers, but when asked if kids will actually be in school for the fall, I can’t just grab Yes or No from the swirling winds of a helter-skelter world for the sake of making noise or slapping magic theories or declarations onto your newspaper page and computer screen. I’m not going to scream, “Send the kids back!” like the Trump administration, which has gone even further than that.
“The science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
Science and data should be the leading indicators of whether school in a traditional sense is possible and, right now, we don’t know for sure if it is.
We have to earn it. All that makes sense, even in the age of immediacy and during a time of great urgency surrounding a wildly important question, is to sit tight and revisit the topic when the moment is actually upon us. We have to do our part in the meantime.
“What we’re doing as superintendents is working with teachers and the teachers unions to assure them that we want all the kids back — as do they, as do the families — but, honestly, it has to be a safe and healthy environment,” Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said July 13 during Lamont’s coronarivus press briefing. “Right now, the data is showing us that, but the data could change tomorrow, and we’re very cognizant of that.”
The pandemic is a fluid and destructive force, somewhat managed and mitigated but not defeated, with science providing numbers that represent ever-changing realities and possibilities. Could and should students return under current pandemic conditions, if those conditions are guaranteed not to take a U-turn? Yes, of course.
But that’s almost entirely irrelevant, because we need to be concerned exclusively not with the hand we’re playing today, but with the one we’ll be playing a month or so from now.
Right now, Connecticut’s rate of infection is below 1%. That’s encouraging, workable.
If it spikes toward 5% in the coming weeks, as state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Carter said, it would be “very concerning.”
It would be dangerous, damaging.
“We’re in a unique position, so far, to be able to open our schools on time and most of the kids going back into the classroom,” Lamont said.
Our grapple with the virus’ clutch on society has created an enormous void in the lives of students, who adapted to distance learning for the remainder of 2019-20 when schools were emptied in March, lost out on nearly every social activity and got used to limited access to educators, while an almost impossible burden was placed on parents.
Already in California, where a coronavirus flare has led to a scaling back of the state’s reopening process, there is a plan to continue with distance learning. We don’t want to revisit that, for the most obvious reasons and for others tied to a continual disintegration of an economy. If kids can’t go to school, some parents can’t necessarily work, and those without the means for child care will head straight into 2021 living with the same strain they were under in spring and summer 2020.
Superintendents, Rabinowitz said, are working on three models in preparation for any response to COVID’s August conditions:
— Students in the classroom full time.
— Students in the classroom part time, coming and going in waves, with groups perhaps divided by grades.
— Students remaining in distance learning.
However it plays out is less than ideal. The models for a return stress adherence to five mitigating means of protection against the virus’ spread: hand-washing, sanitizing, cohort classes to reduce student crossover, face coverings and social distancing.
Are strict protocols even practical? There should be concern about children being able to wear a mask all day and grouped with dozens or hundreds of others, being able to remain still when needed, a virus lurking, Mom and Dad not on site to guide and comfort.
There’s no perfect answer. August and September are going to be uncomfortable, no matter where and how our children are actually learning.
“There is nothing more effective than having children in classes with their teachers,” Rabinowitz said. “We’re watching the science very carefully. We’re hoping to bring them all back … but only if it’s healthy and safe for every child and every teacher and every leader.”
©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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