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July 15, 2020

Should K-12 Schools Reopen?

And should teachers be furloughed where they don’t?

Opening K-12 is not a danger to kids. Not opening obviously hurts their academic, social, and emotional development.

In Vermont, where we have been fortunate to have only 55 deaths from C19, no one under 40 has died from the disease.

Nationwide (from the WSJ) “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 children under age 15 have died from Covid-19. In a typical year 190 children die of the flu, 436 from suicide, 625 from homicide, and 4,114 from unintentional deaths such as drowning… Only two children under age 18 have died in Chicago—fewer than were killed in shootings in a recent weekend.” [nb. The kids would’ve have been safer in school]… Teens appear to be more infectious. Yet schools that have reopened in most countries, including Germany, Singapore, Norway, Denmark and Finland, haven’t experienced outbreaks. Some schools in Israel had outbreaks last month after class sizes were increased, but most infections in both teachers and students were mild.”

Of course the countries that have reopened have lower case rates than many American states. But American children are not dying of C19. It does make sense to keep class sizes small, stagger the flood of adults for pickup and dropoff, and be outside as much as possible.

Closed schools are a disaster for the poor.

In Vermont our worst poverty is rural and white. In other states the poor are clustered in blighted urban areas and a large percentage, but not all, are people of color. In both cases no school is a disaster. Most poor single mothers don’t have the skills or opportunities needed for work-by-zoom jobs. They can’t afford to stay home; they can’t work if the kids can’t go to school; their own schooling probably didn’t make them well-equipped to provide home instruction. Moreover, as bad as many of our schools are, they are also a refuge from broken homes and dangerous streets. They are a place where children are fed and a place where some cases of home child abuse are detected and reported. These children, many of them Black, are among the lives that matter.

Poor children are more likely than affluent ones to live in multi-generational homes and more likely to live in homes where people must go out to work. They may be as likely to be exposed to the virus at home as at school. It is bad if they bring the virus home to grandpa or great grandpa. These families should have an opportunity to choose – for the very shortterm – whether their children should go to school. They have no choice if the schools are closed!

What about the danger to teachers?

Teachers are at more risk if they go to school than if they stay home; the risk is more from parents and other teachers than children; but it is real. Police, grocery workers, health care workers, furnace repair people and plumbers are also at risk because they can’t work from home. Teachers, too, are essential workers. Like others in essential jobs, they should work or go on unemployment.

Teachers through their unions are challenging plans for school reopenings. They can’t argue that remote learning worked because it usually didn’t. They are not slaves; they don’t have to go back to work; they shouldn’t keep their jobs if they don’t. They do have a right to be part of the discussion. They should be able to discuss methods to keep the kids and themselves, in that order, safe. They cannot expect parents who can’t go to work because the schools are closed to keep paying teachers who won’t teach.

What do we give up to keep schools open?

My daughter Kate pointed out that the school debate has fallen into our far-too-deep partisan chasm. One side says open everything and the hell with masks; the other side says everyone has to huddle at home regardless of the degree of danger.

There are some risks we must take and some risks we don’t. Opening the schools is necessary; opening the bars (where the disease is active) is not. It is total risk that we must manage. No adult should be in a school building or on school grounds without a mask; talk to me about your freedom elsewhere.

K-12 schools should reopen. Teachers should be treated like the essential workers they are.

See also:

Defund Teachers During the Pandemic

Defunding Teachers for Better Education and More Equal Educational Opportunity

Covid Forces Vermont to Split Childcare from Teaching

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